Pula Lujan and Mary Smith, both residents of Norwich, Connecticut, recently had the opportunity to clear their names and move on from their pasts. The Connecticut Pardon Team Inc. held a ceremony for the two individuals, who had successfully completed the necessary steps to have their criminal records expunged from the state of Connecticut.
Thanks to donations from Verano, a company that owns dispensaries across the country, including Zen Leaf in Norwich, Lujan and Smith were able to receive reimbursement for the fees charged by the Pardon Team. They also received proclamations from the State of Connecticut, presented to them by state Sen. Cathy Osten, with state Rep. Kevin Ryan joining. Rev. Benjamin Green of Evans A.M.E. Zion Church also gave a prayer.
The Pardon Team has helped over a thousand people obtain pardons since its inception in 2004. The organization continues to operate with a mix of paid staff and volunteers working out of its office in the former house of Gov. William Buckingham on Main Street in Norwich.
According to Executive Director Richard Caron Sr., the Pardon Team typically has a waiting list of 25 to 30 clients at a time. Caron, who received a pardon himself in 2005, emphasized that the organization’s mission is to assist individuals who have made mistakes and are seeking a second chance.
A Path to Redemption
When Lujan first learned about the Pardon Team, he was relieved to know that there was a way for him to move forward from his past.
“When you’re applying for jobs, one of the biggest hurdles is when they ask you if you’re a convicted felon,” he explained. “Knowing that you can get your record erased gives you the confidence to go after the opportunities you deserve.”
Smith shared that she was initially skeptical about the Pardon Team’s promises. However, working with the organization helped her regain her self-esteem and belief in herself.
“I didn’t think anyone could help me because I had tried so many things on my own,” she admitted. “But the Pardon Team kept encouraging me to try, and it actually worked.”
While there are organizations like the Pardon Team that provide assistance, Lujan stressed the importance of individuals taking responsibility for their own rehabilitation.
“The people who really want to change their lives can find a way,” he asserted.
Lujan also expressed gratitude for the support he received from others throughout his journey, including those who provided letters of recommendation.
Faith also played a crucial role in Lujan and Smith’s personal transformations. Lujan expressed his deep appreciation for God’s guidance, while Smith shared that becoming a pastor has helped her uplift others.
“Faith has provided me with a sense of structure and helped me learn to love and forgive myself,” Smith explained.
The Pardon Process Demystified
To qualify for the services of the Connecticut Pardon Team, individuals must have been convicted of a crime in Connecticut and have successfully completed their parole and/or probation. They must also have been crime-free for three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies, according to Caron.
The pardon process involves obtaining supporting documents, such as rap sheets and statements of the offense, and submitting them through the state’s e-portal. The application is then reviewed by the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole.
The Pardon Team recognizes that not all applications are straightforward. In cases involving serious crimes like child molestation or murder, the organization carefully considers the circumstances before proceeding. Ultimately, the decision lies with the state, Caron explained.
“We have to be open-minded and recognize that some cases are more challenging than others,” he acknowledged.
Initially, the Pardon Team offered its services for free. However, they discovered that many clients were not completing the process due to a lack of commitment. To address this issue, the organization implemented a $500 fee, which is still significantly lower than the fees charged by private attorneys, Caron pointed out.
Charging a fee has significantly improved the completion rate, with clients eagerly reaching out to the Pardon Team to report their progress. Board of Directors President Laura Yeager emphasized the positive impact of this change.
“It makes a big difference,” she affirmed.
Lujan is committed to giving back to the community. He is currently volunteering as a recovery coach and is pursuing an education to become a peer support specialist.
“I want people to see who I am today, not who I was yesterday,” he declared.
Looking ahead, the Pardon Team is exploring ways to expand its services to include citizenship-related matters. Additionally, the organization is seeking to train grant writers to secure funding for itself and other non-profits located in the same building.
While the Pardon Team receives some state funding, it also relies on donations to continue its work. Individuals seeking to learn more about the services offered should call The Connecticut Pardon Team at 860-823-1571.