Root & Rebound

Appeals & Opportunities: Closing a Chapter on the Past

Moving past your criminal record in California

Root & Rebound
6 min readDec 13, 2023
Encountering a grocery store again for the first time

A little over 9 years ago, Kevin remembers walking into a store and feeling the busyness around him — people making their way around the aisles, kids running up and down, laughing out in the open, the sounds of moving carts dipping into the crevices of the tile. It had been years since he experienced this. He vividly remembers walking into a gas station, buying a piece of candy, and being able to pour any soda of his choice. Different from before, he didn’t have to wait on anybody or ask for permission to buy something. He had options. Kevin was rebuilding his life out in the free world after having spent time in prison.

The instances of doing ordinary things, like going to work and doing chores, have become quite normal to Kevin, but this wasn’t always the case.

During those first years home, Kevin was excited to get things started again. He marveled at the idea of being able to provide for his family and be a part of the community again. He was grateful for being given a second chance, but more importantly, he wanted to be there for himself and his daughter. She was at the center of his foundation, and he remembers a few simple words she told him during his first days home.

“Dad, I want you to make better decisions.”

Kevin had his motivation. He carried with him the interpersonal skills he had learned while inside. He worked endlessly to mend the harmful effects of the lifestyle he lived during his younger years. Kevin understood that a second chance at freedom was irreplaceable, so going back to prison was not an option for him. He was set, but his past would say otherwise.

Kevin began going back to school. He started working in a refinery and soon after, he had to apply for a transportation credential that was required in his field of work in order to access regulated areas, like transportation centers. He put in his application and immediately got denied. At first, Kevin didn’t understand why. He knew he had good intentions for applying. He was a changed person who was providing for himself and his family, but he quickly learned that he was being measured by what was on a piece of paper — a criminal background check.

That piece of paper provided no context. It was from another lifetime and did not account for the hard work he had done to transform his life. Even with the bad news, Kevin had tenacity and was determined to do better now that he was out, so he chose to appeal the decision. This would be the first of many appeals that he would have to undergo throughout his career. He knew the process well: he would walk into a room and stand before a panel, answer tons of questions that dove into his memories (moments that he didn’t feel comfortable revisiting, others he had stored away in a mental back pocket), be an open book, and show how he was no longer the same person that was reflected on the piece of paper.

Eventually, he was able to get the decisions that initially denied him a license or credential reversed, but he dreaded having to explain his past each time even though he had already closed that chapter of his life.

“To be honest with you… it was embarrassing because when you look at your record, you be like, I don’t even believe this was me…. I’m answering to stuff…when I was 18, 22, 23, and I’m like, what was I thinking?”

Kevin did most of his own advocacy and representation. He had become accustomed to preparing for denials when applying for most things, but he would not take “no” for an answer. His tenacity created a snowball effect where he would build more confidence with each appeal because they served as reminders that he did deserve an opportunity to obtain the licenses and credentials he was being questioned for.

“Anytime they would tell me ‘no,’ I would appeal. And so when you appeal and they say, okay, ‘you’re appealing because of what?’ Because first of all, I’m not the same person that I was then. Second of all, I have a right to provide for myself and my family…. So, when I won my first appeal, I never looked back.”

Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for many living with a criminal record, where they continually have to explain their past even though they have already served their sentences. It is estimated that there are around 100 million people in the US who face similar barriers because they have a criminal record (Bureau of Justice), but a recent legislative change in California has the potential to address this issue. This is how we met Kevin.

A new state law, SB 731, went into effect on July 1, 2023, allowing thousands of people to petition to have their records expunged, even if they were convicted of violent felonies. Root & Rebound was able to assist Kevin in filing the necessary paperwork to ask for a dismissal. We did this for several of his convictions, and just recently, Kevin got the news that all of his convictions have been expunged¹ under the new California law.

Kevin described the events leading up to the news of his record expungement as a ripple effect, where one action in his past, a small pebble, caused so much discourse in his life. At the same time, he also began to understand that the same concept could be applied towards a positive outlook. This is how Kevin built the fortitude to withstand the setbacks and continue to have hope as he rebuilt his life even years after being released.

“I felt that I had turned the corner on my past…. I think I was officially around the corner when Root & Rebound gave me the results of me contesting all my past history. And I was like, okay, now this is officially past me. And I was prepared to go to court to confront that because… [I] still got people that’s questioning me about my past. And to finally get that behind me. It felt like the ripple finally stopped.”

On any given day, Kevin enters enormous meeting rooms with beautiful views of various cities, including San Francisco. It’s a guiding principle of his to be early, and he’s usually the first one in the room. He slowly makes his way about the room as others begin to trickle in. Folks around him are dressed in suits and ties, including himself, and he acknowledges that he’s sitting among major companies and contractors. He is no different from them and plays a critical role in overseeing project safety. He takes his responsibilities seriously because he is entrusted with the lives of many. It’s in moments like these that he takes a moment and tells himself, “If these people only knew what I’ve been through.” While the environment is different from Kevin’s days in prison, there is never a time when he questions whether he belongs. He earned his right to be there.

Kevin says much of his journey involved fighting against a common misconception of people who have been to prison — that they haven’t changed and aren’t going to amount to anything. Today, he is a father, husband, and lead project safety manager who has been working in the construction field for over 9 years. He enjoys living an ordinary life and is no anomaly when it comes to people restarting their lives after incarceration.

[1] People often use the word “expungement.” In California, record cleaning is not a true expungement, and what people call an “expungement” is actually a “dismissal.” A dismissal does not fully erase the conviction from someone’s record, but it can help with opportunities related to housing, job applications, and more.

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Root & Rebound

Support people navigating reentry and reduce the harms perpetuated by mass incarceration.