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    This originally appeared in the 2019 Best of Louisville issue of Louisville Magazine. 

    Ten years ago, when she was in her mid-20s, Amanda Hall took a four-hour trip across Kentucky. Her hometown that nearly touches the Virginia state line was behind her, and the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Pewee Valley was up ahead. Convicted of felony drug-trafficking charges, Hall would end up spending 13 months behind bars. “The darkest time in my life,” she says.

    Getting out of prison came with its own obstacles. Landlords refused to rent to her, with one even hanging up on her after her past was revealed. Potential employers ignored her as well. Such experiences shape a life. As the organizer of the ACLU of Kentucky’s Smart on Crime Coalition, Hall, 35, lobbies state officials for justice reform. This year, she and a team of advocates helped persuade lawmakers to expand the law that allows people to clear certain class D felonies from their records after a five-year waiting period. The bill also reduced the fees associated with felony and misdemeanor expungement. Next, she’d like to tackle issues like bail reform and the growing number of incarcerated women in Kentucky.

    Around the age of 18, Hall started getting arrested for a smattering of low-level offenses like public intoxication. After a car wreck, she was prescribed pain pills, and opioid addiction followed. She completed a recovery program after prison, went to college to pursue a degree in social work and became a program director at the Healing Place for Women, helping clients who were newly sober. Like her, many women hit dead ends — nobody wanted to rent them housing or hire them. “A lot of times it didn’t work out good (for those women),” Hall says. “So I started realizing how important policies are.”

    Hall’s felonies are not eligible for expungement under Kentucky’s newly expanded law. But she says this work isn’t about her. “The main challenge for me is when criminal-justice bills don’t pass,” Hall says. “I think about the people who are still there (in jail or prison).

    “Some days I feel like I’m making a huge difference; some days I feel like I’m barely treading water. But every day I can go home and say I tried.”

    This originally appeared in the 2019 Best of Louisville issue of Louisville Magazine. Read more.

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    Cover photo: Kentucky Smart on Crime // Facebook

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