Getting clean: Expungement clinic and follow up cleanup a success

Published 10:36 am Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Jessamine County’s first expungement clinic last Wednesday was a smashing success in the eyes of ABLE (Advocacy Based on Lived Experience) community organizer Tipton Moody.

“It went beautifully,” Moody said. “We had about 40 men and women come in to have their records checked. We were able to help probably half of them. Our lead DPA (Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy) representative told me that. We had various community resources, the space (in Revive Life House) was perfect, and we had people waiting an hour and a half early.”

Moody added that he’s already heard community feedback that people would regularly like an expungement clinic in Jessamine County.

Email newsletter signup

The clinic, organized by Moody, Revive Lifehouse and program director Kate Holway of Shepherd’s House, had representatives of law enforcement and the legal community in attendance to support expungement and formerly incarcerated individuals “putting our past behind us, moving beyond a huge stain on our lives,” Moody said.

“It’s like being a felonious Hester Prynne. She was the lead character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Being in recovery, being incarcerated, having a felony conviction- when you combine them all, the letter grows larger and larger,” Moody said.

Vondray Soldanels is a peer support specialist at Shepherd’s House. She didn’t have a hand in organizing the expungement clinic, but she was at the Lake Mingo cleanup the Saturday after and is grateful for events like the clinic.

Soldanels’ substance use disorder started in 2017. She didn’t grow up with this disorder, but it was introduced to her later in life.

“I knew nothing about it, and it took hold of my life and kind of took me on a wild adventure,” Soldanels said.

She ended up getting caught and losing everything. That’s when she started the Jessamine County Drug Court program, which puts individuals in counseling and gets them on the right track to a sober life. It holds those in the program accountable for their life.

“It’s the best thing I could have ever been offered,” Soldanels said about the program. “I was offered a job here at Shepherd’s house, and now I’m in peer support, and I’m giving back everything that was given to me to help me through this, and my cup is running over with what I can give back.

“It helped me tremendously. I’ve got my son back, I’ve got my license back, I’ve got a vehicle, and I’ve got an excellent job. The only thing I’m lacking right now is my own place, and that’s just around the corner.”

Everyone deserves a second chance, according to Soldanels, and she’s happy to see the Jessamine County community hold events like this clinic to help people start over.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to have that second chance in life of not being judged,” Soldanels said. “The stigma out here is ridiculous; they look at your background and see something, and you’re judged automatically, and I think with something that you’ve already served your time for, that you’ve paid back, you should be able to have that cleared off your record so that you’re not singled out in the population of ‘Oh, well we’re not gonna trust you,’ it’s not fair. We make mistakes.”

Lake Mingo cleanup

Several individuals from the local recovery community came together on Saturday to give back.

After a cleanup around Lake Mingo Park, dozens of ducks quacked happily at the lake’s edge, ready to take their midday dive, seemingly grateful for what the volunteers had done.

“There are a ton of people here. We have been able to pick up a lot of junk in the park that people in the community should not leave in the park,” Moody said after the bulk of the cleanup was finished.

The cleanup was sponsored by Revive Life House and Shepherd’s House.

We Clean Up Well, a Paducah-based organization that enlists individuals in recovery to come together to clean up cities all around Kentucky as an act of service. Marcus Jackson, founder and executive director of ABLE, works very closely with Moody and was also in attendance, supporting cleanup efforts.

Even though this event had plenty of individuals from the Nicholasville recovery community, some folks with We Clean Up Well live in Louisville and traveled early in the morning to help with the 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. park cleanup.

We Clean up Well travels all over the state, organizing cleanups in many neighborhoods and parks.

While individuals in substance use recovery receive counseling, self-care classes, and more resources to get their lives back on track, We Clean Up Well takes these folks around to give back to their communities- a core value in all recovery programs.

Don F. was one of these individuals helping out the humid and cool Lake Mingo Park. Originally from Franklin, Kentucky, Don moved to Louisville in April, and he said his life has improved by a long shot. He’s a teetotaler now, and as a 50-something-year-old, he said he wants to work in recovery for the rest of his life.

“I’ve had some good clean times, but I also, when problems come along, fall into depression and go into using. But with these programs I’m in now, it’s the best I’ve ever been to. They teach you coping skills and just total life skills, and I feel better about myself than I have felt since I was 18, 19, or 20,” Don said, praising We Clean Up Well. “Cause’ you had problems, and when you get to know your real self and the truth about yourself, you start to recover. Loving yourself.”

As Don picked up cigarette butts, tiny plastic liquor bottles, and wads of paper off the concrete, he said everyone battling substance use disorder is family- in addition to his blood family who he said has never left his side in supporting him.

He’ll be back out cleaning the streets of Louisville next weekend.

“The community needs to see that, as I’ve stated before, we are their neighbors, children, cousins, uncles, and sons. We do clean up well, and it’s important to see that we overcome addiction, that we get past our incarceration, and that we learn to give back, and it’s that giving back that is so critically important. And sometimes, we have to be very public about it. And that is our point, for the community to see yes, we care about where we live. And we want to make the community as good as possible.” Moody said.

After the cleanup, the volunteers and organizers went to Shepherd’s House, where Kate Holway had prepared hamburgers and hotdogs for the team and held a twelve-step program meeting.

“A special shout out to Kate Holway and her staff at Shepherd’s House for making this a perfect day. She and her staff have been wonderful,” Moody said.