STAND UP

Interview with
Sasha Appatova at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center

 


by Lisa Muething

August 2009

 

Sasha, tell me what kind of work you do here at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center?

We work with adult and juvenile offenders who are trying to become a part of society, a productive part of society. People come in and talk to us about all kinds of issues.

How did you arrive at working at the OJPC?

Well, I knew that I wanted to work with a law firm that has a policy piece to it and not just litigation work, and I was recommended by an attorney I knew in town that this was the place to go, that they were the leaders in what they do. And I looked online and it really matched my personal interests. I came in and interviewed and it was just a perfect match.

How would you describe working here at the OJPC?

Very friendly! It is more like a family than a group of co-workers. People function very closely together. The office is actually set up so that all of the offices face a common area where we all eat lunch. It is good that we are a tight group in this kind of work because you get so emotionally invested in the clients – it’s hard not to – so it is good that there is a whole group of us that support each other and support what we are doing here.

What would you say a typical day is like for you?

Some days, I will have a legal clinic in the morning, or I will do some kind of training or workshop either for ex-offenders or for organizations that work with ex-offenders. I take a lot of call-ins throughout the day. People will call the OJPC either about expungement-record issues or child support, or probation issues.

I have clients that I give information to and advocate on their behalf. So, if they are clients that do not need an attorney, that do not need in-court representation, I work as the primary advocate on their case.

The bulk of my day is working on people’s cases. I do all different things. If people need help getting things taken off their records or face employment barriers, I’m there to help as best as I can. People call in that have been in school for a couple years, and now they don’t know if they can go into that specific career field or field of study because of their criminal record. You work for the people you can help, and you do your best to encourage the people you can’t personally help.

What kind of employment barriers do people face?

It is interesting because there are about 400 laws that restrict different jobs because of someone’s criminal record. Facts like having a felony can prevent you from getting a job to having some sort of small misdemeanor can prevent you from working in a field. A person, for instance, that has two offenses for passing a bad check – as in the ‘bouncing’ of checks – can prevent a person from going into the nursing field. The different licensing boards all have different rules and they do not have to communicate with each other. So, the standards to be a barber could be much higher than the standards to be in the nursing field, in regards to a criminal record.

What kind of impact do you think the poor economy this past year has had in what you do at the OJPC?

It’s had a huge impact! So many more calls. I feel like every day I am getting more and more calls from people who can’t get jobs because of their criminal records. Now they are facing this dual challenge because no one can find a job. People with no criminal record, tons of experience, and education are having a hard time finding a job. It is a definite economic downturn. People are having trouble paying their rent, having trouble paying their child support, having trouble paying for education. Whatever is on their plate is now ten times bigger, plus they have this criminal record that they can’t expunge if they do not know the proper strategies.

And that is what you teach in the workshops?

Yes.

Tell me about a couple of your success stories here.

We have a lot of success stories, and I would have trouble picking out one. I will tell you a recent case. I had a client that had social security stopped because of an arrest that did not lead to a conviction. The client was wrongly arrested and the case was thrown out, and this non-conviction caused a major disturbance in the client’s SSI. That was the client’s only source of income and money was being taken out of the client’s checks and the client soon lost a home. So, I went down to the social security office and got it figured out for the client. The client got waived the money that the client owed and received the money in return that was taken out. Then, I helped the client get some things expunged from the client’s record so that the client was able to get an apartment. So that was a big case.

That is great! Are there any others you can think of?

I had a client that had a charge on the client’s personal record. It was the client’s only charge and it was a very small charge. But, the way the client’s field does background checks, it shows the initial charge and not what the person was actually convicted of. So, I helped the client get that sorted out, so that the client’s background check now pulls up what the client was convicted of and not the initial charge. That it made it easier for the client to get a job, which was really good.

How would someone know of the services that you offer here?

We do some advertising online. We have a lot of social service agencies that post our clinic calendars. And we are in Lower Price Hill, and we are in Over-the-Rhine and in Avondale. We provide other clinics scattered across the Cincinnati area. Hopefully, people will hear about us and come in. All of our services are free, so even if we can’t completely help you or can’t get an attorney to represent you, it does not hurt at all to come in.

So what are some of the workshops that you have?

The Urban League has a class called SOAR class. It is generally for people that have criminal records and are trying to get job skills and job placement. OJPC provides a class for them on background checks, expungement, criminal records, their rights if stopped by the police, and all these different things that affect ex-offenders.

I know your last day here is coming up. What is next for you?

Next for me is law school. I am going to St Louis to Washington University. I want to continue what I am doing, but I think the next step to continue is to get my J.D.

 

* Editors Note: Sasha Appatova is currently studying law at Washington University.

Sasha Appatova

Sasha Appatova

"You work for the people you can help and you do your best to encourage the people you can't personally help."