“Is a criminal record holding you back? We’re here to help.”
That is the mission of a new program presented by Ministries of Hope in partnership with South Carolina Legal Services.
The group will be hosting two virtual expungement and pardon clinics this week via Zoom. The clinics are free of charge and open to the public.
These events will be held on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. (https://zoom.us/j/94068789067?pwd=bEcrNDFIL2kvYTFmR2xyaGJRbkpGQT09) and Saturday, Aug. 8 at 11 a.m. (https://zoom.us/j/91820560625?pwd=TFRDUnpVVmpicHFzZnJjakkvR1ArZz09).
Rev. Joseph E. Washington, pastor of HOPE Church in Conway and chair of the board for Ministries of Hope, said Ministries of Hope was founded to assist incarcerated men and women in Horry and Georgetown counties while they are in prison and upon their release. The ministry also provides resources for their families.
The expungement and pardon clinics are a new venture for the organization.
“We hosted one in Georgetown and one in the Myrtle Beach/Conway area,” Washington said. “The challenge that we had in both venues was that people who have been released feel stigmatized by being ex-offenders. They don’t want people to know. They shield themselves from acknowledgement.”
The virtual program will offer a bit more anonymity for those seeking a pardon or expungement, while also providing safety in the wake of COVID-19.
“We haven’t been able to do this in person since COVID,” Washington said.
The virtual clinic will give attendees the opportunity to learn more about the expungement and pardon process in South Carolina and allow a chance to pose legal questions to a team of experts.
Through a grant from the Francis P. Bunnelle Foundation, Ministries of Hope and SC Legal Services will pay up to 100 percent of legal processing fees for eligible attendees.
“These fees can cost up to $350, which is exorbitant for folks who do not have jobs or whose jobs only afford them enough to provide essential care for their families,” Washington said.
No prior registration is required to attend the Zoom events. Those seeking guidance can simply join the call via the provided links. You can find more information and direct links on HOPE Church’s Facebook page under “Events.”
“If individuals qualify, they will need to register with Legal Services and Ministries of Hope to receive assistance,” Washington said.
The pastor said an expungement or pardon can be crucial for released individuals who are seeking employment and “are trying to get their lives back together.”
“I believe there are a number of employers willing to help people who have made mistakes, and to give them a second chance,” he said.
Ministries of Hope is based in Conway. The organization offers employment resources, educational resources, and support for partners, spouses and families of incarcerated men and women.
“We want to approach mass incarceration in a holistic manner,” Washington said. “We want to provide support to these men and women in and out of prison, and make sure the families’ needs are met on the outside.”
Washington noted that children of incarcerated parents are highly likely to go to prison themselves, so providing that support on the outside is crucial to the ministry.
The organization is currently raising capital to purchase a van that will be used to transport families to visit their loved ones in prison.
“They are often lonely and want to see their spouse and children,” Washington said.
Ministries of Hope is sending books to incarcerated people and offers assistance for those seeking GEDs, high school diplomas and, in some cases, enrollment in junior college upon release.
“We want to give them a leg up,” Washington said.
The pastor said that the best way for the local community to support Ministries of Hope is to get the word out.
“Help break down the barriers and destigmatize incarceration,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have unfortunate circumstances. We really don’t know their stories. We want to help the least of these, and forgive folk that have done something wrong.”
Learn more about Ministries of Hope and how you can help, from making a donation to serving as a volunteer, by visiting www.ministriesofhopesc.org or calling 843-779-5543.