Getting a Second Chance

Each year, Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) helps thousands of people who seek a second chance. A single arrest can result in a cascade of barriers for an individual the loss of employment, the loss of housing and the break-up of families. CGLA works to prevent these consequences from happening, while also working to remove the collateral damage of arrest and conviction. Michael is one person who received a second chance with CGLA’s assistance.

CGLA first met Michael in 2016 through its partnership with Strong Futures, a violence prevention program in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Michael had one conviction that remained on his record because it was ineligible to be sealed under Illinois law at that time.

Supervising Attorney Sue Pak (left) handled Michael’s case. As Director of Programs, Cynthia Cornelius (right) provided supervision over the case.

At the time of this offense, Michael had just turned 17 (he is now 29). A witness had told police that Michael was part of the group committing the crime, but Michael told the CGLA attorneys he did not commit the offense. Michael was told he would face a longer sentence if convicted after a trial, so he opted to take a plea deal. He was found guilty and sentenced to six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

While incarcerated, Michael completed his GED and some college courses, and received several job certifications. After he was released in 2008, Michael found temporary work here and there, but he was unable to find steady employment and was often turned away because of his conviction. His ultimate goal was to be a barber, but he faced a statutory barrier to getting a barber’s license in Illinois because of this conviction.

In 2016, Michael was selected to be a part of the Strong Futures program, where he has served as a mentor to other young men with criminal records facing obstacles to employment, education, and housing. He says that every day he tries to stay positive and leans on his support network at church when he is feeling hopeless.

In 2017, the law regarding what convictions were eligible to be sealed expanded to include Michael’s conviction. Immediately, CGLA prepared a petition for him and a court date was set.

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Your Campaign in Action

  • CGLA received a $55,000 organizational support grant thanks to your generous support of the Campaign.
  • Overall, CGLA closed over 6,600 cases last year, more than 2,600 of which were handled by pro bono  attorneys.
  • CGLA fights for justice on behalf of individuals, families and communities impacted by the criminal justice system.
  • Using a holistic approach of legal and social services, CGLA’s goal is for each client to leave stronger than when they came in.


Despite all of the positive steps Michael had taken in his life, the judge seemed inclined to deny Michael’s petition due to the nature of the offense and because not enough time had passed since the arrest. The judge then asked Michael why he should seal his conviction. With tears streaming down his face, Michael advocated for himself, talking about why he wanted to get his record sealed, his dreams of being a barber, and the hardships he has encountered while trying to financially support his three young children. In the end, the judge granted Michael’s petition. Michael could not believe that, after 12 years since his arrest, he was now able to walk out of the courtroom with a clean slate.

Michael’s story illustrates the challenges many Chicagoans returning to their community face. Through your support of the Campaign, you are giving Michael and many others facing similar challenges a second chance, and the impact extends to their families and their entire communities.

If you want to help people like Michael seek a second chance, visit the CBF’s online Pro Bono Opportunities Guide to learn more about pro bono opportunities at CGLA.