Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    Formerly incarcerated? Lose your ‘RAP’!

    Alameda County’s Clean Slate Program offers system-impacted a fresh start

    by EVA HANNAN/Co-Editor

    Vincent Garrett / Restoring Our Communities. Laney College’s Vincent Garrett and Alejandra Landin pose under the seal of the Department of Education seal after receiving technical support for their goal to help students with the Alameda County Clean Slate Program.

    Drew Gamarra was on the inside. When he finally got outside, he discovered he had no options.

    “I get it, my background was just too vicious,” he said. “I beat my case, and I came home. They wouldn’t hire me anywhere.”

    Without a job prospect, Gamarra decided to take some classes at Merritt College shortly after he was released from prison.

    “I got here, and there was this program and people just like me. All it took was being in the environment and realizing that I’m not the only one,” he said from his office at Merritt, where he is now the student and youth services coordinator for the Street Scholars Peer Mentoring Program.

    Together with Restoring Our Communities (ROC) at Laney College, the Street Scholars offer guidance and support for formerly incarcerated students.

    “I’m an open book. I’ve done prison time, county time and juvenile time,” Gamarra said. “The last three years of my life have been a complete turnaround for me, and it’s because of programs like this.”

    Growing up in Hayward, Gamarra became involved with gangs early in life.

    He witnessed many of his close relationships come to an end because of violence or incarceration.

    However, obstacles to finding a job do not disappear just because a person has changed their lifestyle.

    An impressive resume does not necessarily help when a background check or disclosures are required for a job application.

    Fortunately, the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office Clean Slate Program is a resource available to anyone who wishes to reduce or dismiss convictions within Alameda County.

    The Record of Arrests and Prosecutions (RAP) sheet for some formerly incarcerated may be expunged.

    “When it’s still on your RAP sheet, it shows that it’s been dismissed. If you get it expunged, you don’t have anything on your sheet,” said Vincent Garrett.

    He, along with Alejandra Landin, are student service specialists spearheading the effort to assist students in “record remedy” at Laney.

    ROC and Street Scholars have partnered with the public defender’s office to assist formerly incarcerated students to have their record remedied for free through this program.

    So far six students, including Gamarra, have received remedy, while almost 20 more have initiated the approximately six-month process.

    “Our director, Roger Chung, had a relationship with some of the public defenders that work at the Clean Slate Program for Alameda County,” Landin said. “Then, ROC was one of 16 programs to win a Technical Assistance Grant from the U.S. Department of Education based on the partnership we had created.”

    The concept took shape after Garrett assisted a friend to remedy their record through the national online source clearmyrecord.org.

    “Initially, it was just me helping people,” Garrett said. “We used our access from the grant to weave it into our program and get support with this partnership.”

    Any student who has been on supervision or probation in Alameda County and knows that they have some conviction history or arrest record (or even thinks they might have something on their record) can go to ROC’s Student Center at Laney in room E-203 and talk to the staff about their options.

    “I walk them through the process,” Garrett said. “None of us hear anything until months later. A letter comes and tells you if it’s been reduced, dismissed or expunged.”

    Garrett himself is a beneficiary of record remedy.

    “I just got my record dismissed in December of 2017 after it was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor” the year prior, he said.

    Students are encouraged to complete the process while enrolled.

    “The idea is that when they’re in school they can pursue record remedy,” Landin said. “When they are ready to transfer or go into the workforce, we’ve taken care of anything that could have been a barrier.”

    Street Scholars, located in room P-112 at Merritt, serves about 90 formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students.

    “I’m the first point of contact,” Gamarra said. “People come in, tell us the idea of what it is they’re looking to do, and we try to demystify [college] for them and help them figure out the process.”

    After witnessing first-hand the positive effects of the Street Scholars program, Gamarra hopes to be the director of a similar organization after he transfers and receives a degree in social and behavioral science.

    He credits the program with his newfound direction.

    “If I continue to be transparent and let these people know I’m really trying to change my life, doors just keep opening left and right.”

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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