RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're now going to hear about a man in New York City who is starting this new year with a second chance. He was sent to prison for a crime he committed when he was a teenager. His criminal record has followed him well into adulthood until now. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has his story.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Eduardo made a mistake 10 days before he turned 18.
EDUARDO: Yeah, right there.
WANG: That building out there.
EDUARDO: This building right here.
WANG: He's 32 now. But more than 14 years ago, police arrested him outside that building for selling cocaine. He says he did it to get money for marijuana, right next to the apartment building in New York City that he's lived in since he was a kid.
So you pass by it every day.
EDUARDO: Yep (laughter) basically every single day I relive that moment.
WANG: That moment led to a three-years-to-life sentence in an adult prison. But he convinced the parole board to let him out early. Still, he came home with a criminal record. That's part of the price he's paid for the first and only arrest in his life.
EDUARDO: Shortcuts, man, shortcuts, they won't get you anywhere, man, just give you a hard time. They'll give you a lot of time to think.
WANG: We're only using Eduardo's first name because he's worried a future employer or landlord might hear about his criminal record. He says it's cost him plenty of jobs since he left prison.
EDUARDO: The initial interview would go great, but towards the end when it was time to run that background check, that's when reality hit. And I've heard the word no so many times. It's hard, man. It's hard to keep telling yourself you're not going to give up.
WANG: But just before the new year, Eduardo finally got the phone call he had been waiting for - one of his attorneys told him that New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, was granting him a pardon.
EDUARDO: I couldn't believe it. I really couldn't believe it. My heart dropped. I began to cry like a child because the first thought that went through my head was, wow, like, finally.
WANG: Eduardo received one of the first pardons in New York for former offenders who committed a nonviolent crime when they were 16 or 17 and have stayed conviction-free for at least 10 years. Anyone convicted of a sex crime does not qualify. For Eduardo, this pardon means the conviction record that's haunted him into his early 30s is now sealed from the general public. And that could help get rid of many of the barriers to jobs and housing he and thousands of other former teenage offenders have faced.
MARC MAUER: They serve no good public safety function, and yet, they really make it even more difficult for people to readjust to the community once they've completed their prison term.
WANG: That was Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project. He says New York's program could serve as a model for other states, including North Carolina. That's the only other state like New York that charges 16 and 17-year-olds for all crimes not as juveniles but as adults. Mauer says records in the adult justice system can be harder to seal than in the juvenile system. In fact, adult records about misdemeanors in New York are never sealed according to Laurie Parise, executive director of Youth Represent.
LAURIE PARISE: You can be 16 years old, you can hop a turnstile, you can get convicted for theft of services, and that will be on your record the rest of your life.
WANG: Parise is one of the attorneys who helped Eduardo apply for Governor Cuomo's pardon.
PARISE: We can't continue to define young people by the worst mistake they ever made. I mean, we've all made mistakes, some serious mistakes, not so serious mistakes, but we have to give people a chance.
WANG: Eduardo's still waiting for his chance to become a health educator. He got a master's degree last year. For now, he's working two jobs to help raise his 4-year-old daughter, and he says his memories of his arrest and time in prison motivate him today.
EDUARDO: I tell myself I am better than this. I am much better than what a piece of paper or what this judge has sentenced me. I know that this is not who I am.
WANG: And with the new pardon, he'll have more control over defining who he wants to be. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF AFFELAYE'S "MORNING TREMOR")
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