RIDGELAND, Miss. (WLBT) - Darla Palmer, a high-profile defense attorney, has carried the dream of the Mississippi Expungement Center for most of her career, and she’s been laying the groundwork.
“It has been my goal throughout my years, which we’re hitting almost 24 or 25 years now, that whenever I’m trying to either work something out or get a case settled for a client that I can do it in such a manner that it can be expunged,” she said.
Palmer said she started the center in March and was about to throw a big opening and on that very week, the stay home order for CoViD-19 was put into motion. That meant the classes and seminars she had planned couldn’t take place, since they usually involve around a dozen people.
But still, Palmer pressed on for a very specific reason: To give people a second chance at their lives in a world that continually separates people for their differences.
“Right now we are living in an environment of separatism, disunity, of not caring for the other person,” said Palmer. “That’s really what expungement means, it’s removing something from your background that will cause you to be treated differently.”
In Mississippi, violent crimes can’t be expunged, but a lot of non-violent ones can once the person has done their penance to society. Things like voting, buying a gun, enrolling in school or renting an apartment can be a challenge with a criminal record, even when it’s non-violent. Palmer says expungement can be a fresh start.
“It will ultimately change your life, and I think that’s what I get out of doing what we do here, is that I have so many individuals who come because they were not able to get employment which is so important right now. Before now, but especially during COVID,” she said.
WLBT spoke with a woman who found the Expungement Center on Facebook. She didn’t want to identify herself, in order to keep from jeopardizing her new job in the medical field. She texted us this about her journey to put her past behind her:
“I’ve moved on to better myself, only to have this pop up on my record. Now after all this, I’ve gotten a better job.”
Palmer said that’s exactly what she’s working for.
“The humanity of it is that each of us deserves an opportunity to improve or to move forward past a mistake that you made,” she said.
In addition, Palmer said the majority of the people she works with want to put their mistakes behind them and be better citizens.
“They will be a better contributing person to the community,” she said. “I find that it seems like once they’ve indeed learned whatever lesson that is, then they want to do those things to be an even better person.”
Someone entering the MSEC would notice immediately the encouraging messages decorating the office, and the positive atmosphere.
“I call it my happy place because that’s really what it is,” she said with a smile in her eyes. “We seek to bring that fulfillment and joy, and just restoration of a person to the community.”
Palmer says she aims to make the experience affordable, with $25 consultation fees and only $250 for an expungement.
The Mississippi Expungement Center is located at 900 E. County Line Road, Suite 205, Ridgeland, MS. You can also check out their Facebook page.