From prison to the mayor’s office, Leavenworth’s new leader talks about turnaround

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LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson is offering hope to those he put behind bars.

It's called Expungement Day, wiping away criminal records for offenders whose criminal records prevent them from thriving.

It's a journey the newly sworn in Leavenworth mayor knows well. Mayor Jermaine Wilson's former title is "inmate."

"I lived the fast life, chased after fast money. I thought I was a somebody," Wilson said about his younger self.

Wilson was convicted of possession of narcotics in 2007 and sentenced to three years in prison.

"While in prison, I decided to give my life to Christ," Wilson said. "I knew that if I didn't change my life, I knew that I would probably spend the rest of my life in prison."

After being released from Lansing Correctional Facility, Wilson eventually got a good job and was doing well -- until his background check came back a couple weeks after he started.

"And then the bad news came. They said, 'Sorry, sir, we have to let you go,'" Wilson remembered. "And they actually brought me in the office, was crying and at that moment. I was like, 'Something has to be done. I cannot continue to move forward.'"

In order to move forward, Wilson applied for and got his record expunged, wiping away his felony conviction.

That allowed Wilson to get a job at Fort Leavenworth, support his growing family, start a nonprofit called Unity in the Community, become a Leavenworth city commissioner and now mayor.

"I was just overwhelmed -- joy, tears of happiness, unbelievable. It was like a dream,” Wilson said of his Tuesday night swearing-in.

Thompson first met Wilson when he was on the other side of the law. Watching Wilson rise from the bottom to successful community leader has inspired Thompson to help others do the same.

"My whole job is about trying to protect the community, but it is also about trying to make the community better," Thompson said. "So having this opportunity to figure out a way to help people once they have actually been successful. With what they had gone through when they saw us on the front end, it’s really good to know that they can continue and thrive with their success."

Thompson has recruited attorneys to meet with offenders for free and help them navigate the expungement process. Applications must be completed by March 8, what is now known in Leavenworth County as Expungement Day.

"Our goal is never to have people come back into our justice system. Our goal is (that) this one fall-down, this one mistake is the last time they have to come and see us again," Thompson said.

Wilson, who shares his inspirational story of success in schools and prisons, is a living example of what a person can achieve if given a second chance.

"And just know that if you continue to move forward and don't dwell on your past mistakes, you can become anything that you want to become in life," Wilson said.

After the March 8 application deadline, it will take Thompson’s office about 60 days to process most expungement requests.

The application and more information can be found here.

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