Jobless veterans learn more about "Second Chance Law"

Veteran Anthony Smith says a past felony conviction is keeping him from finding a job.
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It's been said that everyone deserves a second chance.

That's what a new law aims to do for ex-convicts in Indiana who have served their time.

When you're an unemployed veteran living in a shelter like Anthony Smith is, the only thing certain most days is what you're cooking for dinner.

"I'm going to make some cornbread," Smith said as he stood before the oven in the kitchen at the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation.

Smith has lived in the HVAF shelter since January. But when you've got a criminal record like Smith does, tomorrow can be daunting.

"It seems like you gotta fight a little bit harder," the 49-year-old Army National Guard veteran said. "You wake up constantly with this on your mind, thinking you're a bad person because of something you did in your past."

In Smith's case, it was the crime of forgery for which he served six years in prison.

"I paid my debt," he said.

That's not how some potential employers, though, have always seen it.

"Sometimes they don't trust you after being incarcerated," Smith explained.

Still, every time he has gone to fill out a job application, when it asks if he's ever been convicted of felony, Smith said he always marks yes.

"I'm not gonna lie," said Smith. "I just want a second chance. That's all I ask for is a second chance."

Now because of a new law that went into effect last month, Smith's second chance could be closer than he thinks.

"Just because you got a conviction on your record, doesn't mean that you're a bad person," said the law's author, Indiana State Representative Jud McMillin. "It just means that you made a mistake at some point in the past."

The Second Chance Law gives anyone with a misdemeanor or felony conviction a chance to have their records cleared after serving their time. The only kind of crimes that don't qualify for expungement are crimes of a sexual nature or murder.

Hundreds of veterans with criminal records learned how the law works Wednesday at a gathering inside the Indiana War Memorial.

"Basically what I wanted to do is give people a chance to get back out there and take care of themselves and give them an incentive to start living their life out there," said McMillin.

For Smith, it could be a chance to break free of the invisible prison bars keeping him trapped in his past.

"It gives you something bigger to hope for," Smith said of the new law and the chance to have his record cleared. It could also open doors to the job Smith has always wanted, to be a cook in a restaurant.

"Cooking makes me happy," he said.

What also makes Smith happy is the thought of building a life and future for himself.

"It's coming. I just gotta hang in there," Smith said.

So he cooks for the other homeless veterans at the shelter, waiting for his second chance to come around.