Julie Mennel believes that one’s past does not define their future, and her daily work reflects this message. At her legal clinic, she offers expungement services to clients free of charge.
“I’m a forgiven person, so who am I to point a finger at them and not declare that they’re forgiven for their mistakes as well,” Julie shares.
Meet Julie Mennel: expungement paralegal in Indianapolis, Indiana
Julie Mennel: Every day, I tell people I have made many mistakes, myself. We all have our own journey. Your past doesn’t need to define your future.
(People enter building through metal detector)
Julie’s clinic helps people expunge their criminal record.
And we are in the City-County Building, which is where all the Marion County courts are located, as well as other agencies that are related to the city and the county.
(Julie walks down a narrow hallway)
Dark, deserted corridor. Most people are not looking forward to walking back into the building where they found themselves convicted and put in a holding cell.
(Julie enters the Expungement Help Desk office)
When people come in the door, what they want to do is make their past criminal record, in effect, go away. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a case that was dismissed where they were never found guilty.
(Julie and other workers meet with clients)
Sometimes it’s a misdemeanor, sometimes it’s a long stretch of felonies that are now in their past and it’s no longer reflective of who they are.
Client: All this can go away?
Worker: This all can go away. And um —
Client: I’m gonna cry.
Julie: They’re here because they can’t get jobs, they can’t sign a lease for an apartment, they can’t foster their grandchildren.
Attorney fees for expungement could cost $1,000 – $5,000.
There’s a lot of barriers that are placed before folks that have criminal records.
The help desk offers the service for free.
(Julie drives through the city)
I would say today’s been a pretty typical day. About 20, 22 people have been in so far. I think I’ve always wanted to be one to say that I don’t judge and that I don’t think I’m better than anyone else, but I’m not sure if I ever really believed it until I got closer to people’s stories. I believe it now.
(Julie enters Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic)
Well, this is the legal clinic. This is our reception area where visitors come initially.
(Julie walks past a room where two women stand on desks taking items off the walls.)
Julie: We’re moving spaces, I see.
Attorney: Do not film this.
Julie: Oh, oh but we are. These are our immigration attorneys who are apparently changing offices today, so…
The mission of our organization is to be the hands and feet of Christ to a vulnerable population. When you think about the laws referred to as a Second Chance Law, we call the program Project Grace. It’s just such a perfect alignment with the faith that we claim. I mean, I’m a forgiven person, so who am I to point a finger at them and not declare that they’re forgiven for their mistakes as well?
(Clients pin small pieces of green paper to a wall to share their second chance stories. Papers read “Be a productive citizen,” “It helped me on my path to becoming a teacher,” “Stay sober and help others!” “Expungement means grad school and a job!” and “I’m not that person anymore.”)
(Julie finishes with a client)
Okay? All right. Thank you, Travis.