As founder and president of a 501c3 non-profit reentry organization that helps emancipated individuals to realize a second chance and provides the necessary programs and services they need as they reenter society, as well as assists to clear the criminal records, many times I am asked what made me want to get involved with such an endeavor? The simple answer is, back in 2003, I was involved in a domestic altercation that turned physical and was hit with a misdemeanor for domestic violence. Although it was my first offense, I was given three years’ probation and the court ordered me to take an anger management course. In retrospect, had I known what I know today about how the system can work or first time offenders, I would have petitioned the court to enter into the anger management program, and to be placed in a pretrial diversion program for first time offenders, instead of pleading “nolo contendere”, or no contest.
Nonetheless, I had been convicted, so I moved swiftly to begin to do the research and self-education to learn the process of getting an expungement in the California Superior Court system, and get my record cleared. I was not willing to allow this mistake to derail my career, and destroy everything that I had worked to achieve up until that point. Needless to say, as soon as my probation was ended, I immediately petitioned the court for an expungement, or in today’s terms, a dismissal. I had completed my anger management course, paid my restitution in full, and by the grace of God and the mercy of the court, the petition for dismissal was granted by the judge. I have continued to lead a peaceful and happy life free from the burden of having a conviction in my criminal history, as the conviction has now been set aside.
Proof that this mishap in life can happen to anyone, and even though it seemed my life was destroyed, the entire experience of being charged with a misdemeanor landed me where I am today, a staunch advocate for criminal justice reform. Through this experience, God gave me deeper insight and made me understand that there are many other people like me who had never been entangled in the criminal justice system, and, some have been like a revolving door, and need assistance getting their lives back on track. He is the complete inspiration for Free Indeed Reentry Project, Inc. These days, I am traveling around the state of California, and the country, teaching, dispelling myths, and educating our communities about the health and economic benefits of cannabis.
Unfortunately, even after the charge of misdemeanor domestic violence has been expunged, there are still hurdles that one must clear while working in the criminal justice system fighting for change and reform, and in the prison system to help to rehabilitate those who are looking to the future and their opportunity to come home and reunite with their families and their community. Domestic violence offenses can often prevent us from entering some prison facilities to work, therefore hindering us from providing much needed reentry services on the inside. This issue seriously needs to be addressed by our legislature as ALL domestic offenders should not be prevented from being allowed to work within the prison system, and without, to help others in a similar situation to overcome barriers from past convictions and stints in prison.
Nita Watson, Founder, President & CEO
Black Gold Urban Grow Consulting & ExpoTM
Free Indeed Reentry Project, Inc. (501c3)