MOJAVE — Monica Andrade served 16 months in prison starting in 2002, followed by three years on parole.
Her crime? Manufacturing a controlled substance for sale, and child endangerment. More specifically, Andrade manufactured methamphetamine while her 13-year-old son was home.
Andrade completed her sentence and set out to change her life. She went to AV-East Kern Second Chance for help.
Michelle Egberts, an ex-felon herself, is founder and executive director of Second Chance. She ran “expungement” workshops to help ex-felons clear their records. The two-hour workshops are packed with information including the barriers people face as they work to clear their record.
“She educates on all the records that are out there,” Andrade said.
Expungement is a court-ordered process that allows an offender to seal or erase the legal record of an arrest or criminal conviction in the eyes of the law.
An individual is eligible for expungement if he or she committed a felony or misdemeanor and was not incarcerated in state prison, has fulfilled his or her probation, and was not convicted of an ineligible crime such as rape or child sexual abuse.
Andrade, 50, served time in prison, so she was not eligible to have her record expunged. But she was eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation.
A Certificate of Rehabilitation is available only for people who have gone to prison. They can get it after a certain amount of time if they meet the criteria. If granted, the document restores some of the rights of citizenship that were forfeited as a result of a felony conviction. It also acts as an automatic application and recommendation for a pardon from the governor.
Andrade attended four or five of Egberts’ workshops to begin work on getting her Certificate of Rehabilitation. She received the document in December 2016.
“There is an 11-page questionnaire just from the courts, from the DA’s office, that needs to be addressed, and if it’s not addressed correctly you’re not going to get your COR,” Egberts said.
The application package includes character references from at least four people who know you went to prison and have turned your life around. Andrade had at least 10 letters of recommendation. Andrade submitted her application for the pardon, including another seven pages of questions, in August 2017.
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Andrade’s pardon on Nov. 21.
“She’s our first pardon,” Egberts said.
Egberts estimated Second Chance has helped more than 2,000 people expunge their records since 2012.
“Everybody is eligible so I don’t discriminate,” Egberts said
However, she noted individuals who committed crimes such as murder, rape, or kidnapping are not eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation.
Andrade visited Egberts’ Mojave home to talk about her pardon and how she is working toward creating a better life for herself and her family.
Andrade’s 13-year-old son, Carlos Boquin, is now 30.
“He is my idol because he never gave up on me,” Andrade said.
Boquin continues to help his mother and her two youngest children, his sisters, after Andrade’s husband was deported back to Guatemala six years ago. She lives with Boquin and his family.
“It was either fall back and go back to my bad ways and repeat history again, or this time, my son said, ‘Mom, I’ll watch the kids, you go to school,’ ” Andrade said.
Andrade went to school. She received an associate of arts degree in 2014. She received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University, Bakersfield in 2017.
She is working on her master’s degree in criminal justice at Grand Canyon University. Andrade hopes to become a probation officer in the juvenile division for the Los Angeles Department of Probation someday. Her ultimate goal is law school.
“I’ve been through it; I’ve experienced it. So that now I can understand and I can relate, so that if anyone wants to talk to me I can be there for them, “ Andrade said. “That’s my goal — is to be there for someone else, to help someone else.”
Andrade got involved with meth because of a weight problem.
She weighed nearly 300 pounds at one point and was in abusive marriage. She started losing weight with the assistance of a doctor who prescribed fenflurmine-phentermine, or fen-phen, an anti-obesity treatment later found to cause potential fatal heart problems that led to its withdrawal from the market.
Andrade met drug traffickers through her former security job. They introduced her to meth to help her lose weight. The meth gave Andrade energy that kept her busy cleaning her house and helped keep the weight off. Andrade said she had children and could not go to the gym.
One thing led to another and Andrade eventually started to cook her own meth. That eventually led to prison.
Andrade has seven children, The two oldest are boys and the rest are girls. At one point her five oldest children were taken away from her. All are now adults. Andrade has seven grandchildren.
Andrade did not expect to get her pardon as soon as she did.
“It couldn’t come at a better time,” Andrade said.
After five years renting the same home, Andrade and her family face eviction.
“I don’t make a whole lot of money; none of us do,” she said.
Andrade is concerned that although she has a governor’s pardon, potential landlords might see her record after a background check and deny her.
The background check will show what Andrade was convicted her and her prison term, along with her Certificate of Rehabilitation and her pardon.
Egberts started AV-East Kern Second Chance with her former partner, Richard Macias, a retired law enforcement officer with 25 years’ experience. Macias now serves as director emeritus.
“Everybody deserves to be rehabilitated,” Egberts said.
Egberts was convicted in 2004 for grand theft. Her case involved more than $100,000.
“I have not been able to fiscally pay off my restitution. But I have done it and more by giving back to my community.” Egberts said.
Egberts is not proud of her crimes. She spent almost three years in prison. When she left prison, she had a four-year degree in business administration with an understudy in marketing.
“Couldn’t find a job for nothing,” Egberts said.
Egberts still has not found a job. She has not cleared her own record.
“I haven’t had time,” she said.
That is because she continues to help other felons. She no longer has a place to conduct the workshops, so she works from home. She walked across the room and picked up a package she received in the mail recently.
“There’s 13 cases in it from Long Beach,” Egberts said.
They do not make any money from Second Chance. Any money they do get goes toward supplies such as postage and ink.
“We’re looking for a home,” Egberts said.
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