Jeana Raines did not feel well. Her doctor had ordered her to undergo a blood transfusion for a liver condition that almost killed her in December, but it conflicted with an appointment at Minnesota's Board of Pardons.
On Tuesday afternoon, Raines powered through her discomfort to ask the governor, attorney general and chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court to wipe clean her criminal record.
Raines was convicted of two misdemeanors in the mid-90s. When she committed the crimes, Raines said she still was under the sway of an abusive relationship.
"I had three little kids and I didn't have a family to help me. I had no education, no income, no nothing," Raines told the board. "I did wrong, but I just felt like I was backed into a corner at that point in my life."
Created by the Legislature, the Board of Pardons has the ability to award what the legal system calls a pardon extraordinary, which removes the requirement that people with criminal histories have to report their convictions to potential employers or anyone else.
On Tuesday, 18 people asked that they be pardoned for crimes ranging from the sale of cocaine in 1994 to a burglary committed almost a half century ago.
In each case, the board reviewed the original crime, then interviewed the applicants and supporters, from wives to lawyers, about how they'd changed their lives.
PATH TO CRIME AND BACK AGAIN
In 1995, Raines was convicted in Stearns County for receiving food stamps while her ex-husband was staying in the house. In 1996, she was convicted for stealing a checkbook at the YMCA and writing a check to "cash."
She said it was for her three daughters, all of whom are now in college.
"It was for diapers and formula, and I think I got them a winter jacket," Raines said. "I'm not a thief, so of course I got caught right away."
Raines paid restitution for the crimes but the convictions seemed to follow her. Even after she received degrees in business and accounting from the Minnesota School of Business, she had trouble finding good jobs because of her criminal record.
"If you make a mistake when you're a teenager, or you're 20, should you have to pay for that for the rest of your life?" Raines said after her hearing. "I get it if you're a recidivist or it's a habit, but I think there should be extenuating circumstances because you're stupid sometimes."
Raines' economic situation only worsened three years ago when she started having difficulty waking up for her job in the morning. She felt confused and lethargic. Doctors diagnosed her with cirrhosis and end-stage liver failure. Now the stakes for the pardon hearing seemed higher.
"I was just nervous because I've been trying to do this for three years and I almost died in December because I couldn't stop bleeding," Raines said. "I just don't know what God wants because I tried so hard to raise my girls to be good people -- now all of a sudden I'm sick."
A PARDON EXTRAORDINARY
Gov. Mark Dayton said board members weigh whether the severity of the offense is commensurate with the harm now being done to someone with a criminal record who is just trying to support their family or get a better job. They ask about applicants' original crimes and, often, traffic offenses, which Dayton said they use to gauge the respect the applicant now has for the law.
"I want someone who has shown that they're really changed their lives," Dayton said later in an interview. "I look for evidence of community involvement and a life that seems to be on a very different track than the crimes that were committed in the first place."
The governor said serving on the Board of Pardons is challenging because of the impact his decisions have on people's future.
"Those are judgment calls, trying to exercise the wisdom of Solomon and to really look beneath the veneer and see who's really there," Dayton said. "Is it somebody we can trust to put back in society with a clean slate?"
Jeana Raines got that clean slate when the board approved her pardon extraordinary. Dayton said Raines' dedication to her daughters and her community involvement were factors in the board's decision.
"She wasn't avoiding responsibility, but she was explaining the circumstances. She seemed like a person of very good character and all three of us approved the pardon for her," Dayton said.
Raines now mostly relies on disability income. A former Navy service member who served in the early 1990s, Raines said she expects benefits from the Veteran's Administration that help pay rent for her Eden Prairie home to run out soon. The board's pardon is a bright spot.
"I'm hoping that as soon as my sickness gets better, this will make a big difference, because then I can take those jobs that I've interviewed for -- the bigger jobs," Raines said.
The Minnesota Board of Pardons approved pardon requests for seven of the 18 applicants on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.