- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Brian Brown was released recently from prison for a drug-related conviction.

After nearly four years behind bars, he was placed in a halfway house and became one of the estimated 60,000 felons under court supervision in the District, according to the D.C. Public Defender Service.

A “very tough environment” awaits him. After 60 days, the 46-year-old native Washingtonian will be released from the halfway house.

In preparation, on June 23, he attended the fifth annual Community Re-entry and Expungement Summit to get information on, and strategies for, employment, housing, health care and education.

“What we want to do is address the many needs of those who are returning to the community from periods of incarceration or those who have experience with the criminal justice system,” said Avis E. Buchanan, director of the D.C. Public Defender Service.

“It’s a very tough environment for them,” she said. “It’s a tough environment for everybody right now, but it’s particularly tough for those who have criminal records in D.C. We want to look into making that transition a little bit easier for them.”

Brown, like the hundreds of other ex-offenders at the summit, was interested in getting his criminal record sealed.

“If possible, I want to get my record expunged,” he said, “but if not, I want to gain some kind of employment as well as housing opportunities.”

However, D.C. law prohibits expungement of his felony drug conviction. Only misdemeanors qualify.

Brown’s only option is a presidential pardon, and the summit offered tips on how to submit a good pardon application.

“Even if you can’t get your record sealed, then maybe there is the possibility that you can get a presidential pardon,” said James D. Berry Jr., chief of the community re-entry division for the Public Defender Service. “It depends on what you’ve been doing since you’ve been out.”

Brown is training to be a cook at the D.C. Central Kitchen, where he is in the 10th week of a 12-week culinary arts program.

“It’s a very good program, he said. “They teach you some real good skills.”

The 10th week is when students go out and search for work. They are given clothes to make them more presentable to prospective employers and a transportation allowance.

Brown has yet to find housing, but he is keeping his expectations realistic.

“I can’t expect instant gratification. That’s what led me out on the streets when I was doing wrong,” he said.” “You just got to be patient and maintain.”

• Joseph Young is a writer living in the District.

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