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Janessa, a female student, stands outside a building at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C.

Janessa, 21, had been taking classes at Central Piedmont Community College in hopes of earning an associates degree that would put her on a better path when she walked into the campus Single Stop office last fall.

A few years ago, she found herself hanging out with the wrong friends and making bad decisions that resulted in misdemeanor charges for larceny and drug possession. These charges were ultimately dismissed, but they remained on her criminal record.

“I thought everything was fine because [the charges] were dismissed.”

She had no idea these mistakes would follow her into her adult life. It wasn’t until she started applying for jobs that she realized she had a criminal record. When employers ran background checks, the charges came up, and they told her they couldn’t hire someone with a criminal record.

She remembers interviewing for a local retail position and sailing through the three interviews necessary for the job.

“I was the perfect candidate for that job, but then it came down to them asking if I had any problems with them running a background check,” Janessa says. “I knew what they would find, so I told them about the charges.”

She didn’t get the job. Every time she filled out a job application, the necessary background check was her barrier – to employment, to a stable income, to opportunity.

Her record was with her in the classroom too–it barred her from applying for the professional license she needed to complete her degree and pursue employment in her field.

During the fall semester, a friend told her about the legal assistance Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy offers to students through its educational-legal partnership with CPCC through its Single Stop program.

The program provides free legal assistance that students otherwise would not be able to afford to address common problems that prevent students from completing their education and pursuing economic opportunity.

Janessa met with an Advocacy Center attorney not knowing if she could even get help. She was surprised to learn she was eligible to have the charges removed from her record by applying for an expunction.

With the help of her attorney, she applied and waited six months for a decision from the state.

A few weeks before graduation, she got the answer that ultimately opened her door to opportunity: her application had been approved, and she no longer had charges listed on her criminal record.

Janessa, smiling, outside of a campus building

“Now I can do anything. The whole world is open to me.”

After years of trying to leave her mistakes in the past, Janessa finally got the fresh start she sought at CPCC. She heads out into the world with her degree in hand and a determination to succeed.

Learn more about our Single Stop Educational-Legal Partnership with Central Piedmont Community College.