Brianna Delgado is one of Rutgers Camden’s finest students. She is graduating this October, and has been a valued member of the community as a member of multiple organizations on campus. She has worked at several financial institutions as an undergraduate while earning her degree from Rutgers Camden’s School of Business. Nobody would ever guess from her many accomplishments that her childhood was deeply tumultuous. It was Brianna’s challenge, that despite how hard she had worked to overcome her circumstances and beat the odds stacked against her, there were parts of her past she couldn’t seem to escape.
An issue arose when Brianna applied for her job at the bank she currently works at, and received a call one day from HR concerning something that appeared on her background check: an incident on her juvenile criminal record in March of 2011. Despite the incident taking place almost a decade prior, Brianna grappled with the frustration that a mistake she made as a minor at only 14 years old could still affect her career prospects and future at 23.
“I felt a little silly being 23 years old having to explain [that] to a job…and I’m thinking ‘Are they gonna hire me? Like, is this going to make a major impact on my employment?’” Brianna said.
Regretting the things we did and said as a teenager is a common experience, and many of us are lucky enough to get to move forward without looking back. However, for Brianna and others in her shoes, juvenile records are often an unfair tether to the past which inhibits someone’s future, especially for disadvantaged kids growing up in underprivileged areas and difficult family situations which lead to consequences out of their control. This was a very similar case for Brianna.
Brianna was born and raised in Camden, New Jersey in a single parent household. Her father was in prison until she was 14 years old, and she had no relationship with him prior to his release. Being raised alone by her mother was a very stressful and unhealthy experience, as she experienced physical, verbal and emotional abuse from her mother throughout her childhood, which ,of course, took a toll on her. Brianna was struggling in her middle school- dealing with a lot of anger issues from the trauma she endured at home, and with no healthy outlet for these emotions. One day, this anger came to a boiling point, and she got into an altercation with another classmate who provoked her.
“I was in eighth grade, and I had turned around and I just, like, reacted off of impulse and off of trauma,” Brianna said. “I remember just pulling the student by their hand, telling them never to put their hands on me again…I didn’t hurt the student, no one was harmed. I made a simple mistake acting out of like I said, acting off of trauma. Um, however, my mother, she took things into her own hands.”
The school suspended Brianna for her actions, made her continue the rest of the year homeschooled, and prohibited her from attending the eighth grade dance. She was only able to walk at graduation after begging them to let her.
“They took a lot of things away from me. If I could do it all over again, I would love to go back to eighth grade to just have my eighth grade dance because I’m that student that unfortunately, I made a mistake and I wasn’t able to attend the school dance. And that’s something that as an eighth grader going into high school, you know, you look forward to, um, sharing that moment with friends who you’re about to disconnect from and enter this new phase of high school,” Brianna said.
“The resolution that the school came up with just wasn’t enough for my mom. Again, like I said, she was very abusive. So when it came to this opportunity, I guess, to seek justice in her own hands, um, she unfortunately had me arrested in front of my whole entire class.”
On top of the school’s punishment, Brianna’s mother signed her out of school and had her handcuffed and arrested in front of her classmates. Brianna remembers the anger and confusion she felt as the police were putting her in the back of the cop car
“At 14, I’m being fingerprinted by this police officer. I’m taking mugshot photos. My mother is sitting there the whole time watching this happen. I have no idea why I’m there. Eventually I went into a holding cell for like three hours. I’ve refused to talk to anyone. Eventually I agreed to talk to the detective…I told them everything that happened. I went back to the holding cell. Then they were able to release me back into custody of my mom, until we went to court. So their original plan, they wanted to send me to Lakeland Juvenile Correction Center, in Lakewood, New Jersey until I had court. But because I had agreed to talk, they agreed to release me back to my mom,” Brianna said.
Brianna eventually went to court and was given probation, required to take anger management classes, as well as complete community service, pay a fine, and write an apology letter to the victim. As Brianna entered high school, these charges followed her and the school counselors removed her from the early childhood studies program as a result of her record. This crushed Brianna as it felt like just another strike against her, as she was now forced into a cosmetology program at her school which she didn’t enjoy.
In her personal life, she was struggling as well. She was able to move out of her mother’s abusive home and live with her father for the first time, but that wasn’t an ideal situation either. She went into foster care instead of returning to her parents’ homes, then went to live with an aunt for a while, until she eventually returned to the foster care system again. High school was spent constantly moving between different homes and switching different schools but despite this, Brianna still did well in school. She fought hard as a junior to enter back into the trade school she liked, and this is where she first discovered her business classes. Her teachers encouraged her to get up to speed despite being two years behind in the program, and she was doing so well that she was chosen for a job opportunity within the school by the same guidance counselor that had rejected her from the early childhood studies program as a freshman because of her record.
“I remember doing my interview with [the guidance counselor] and he called me back to his office and he told me, ‘you know, I decided to choose you because I can actually say that I witnessed you grow and change into a better person. I remember freshman year when I was your guidance counselor and I had to tell you that you couldn’t be in your career program anymore. Then now your name comes across my desk for a job opportunity. I felt like it was just meant for me to choose you because I had already known your story. I’ve already known your background and I know how hard it was for you to be 14 and, having a record and trying to navigate through school with having a record at the same time,’” Brianna said.
Despite the difficulty she faced inside and outside of school, Brianna is grateful that it all led her to find her passion for business, which is why she decided to attend Rutgers Camden’s School of Business; she has been working in the industry since 2018. It was this job that inspired her to seek a pathway to expunge her juvenile criminal record once and for all. She did her research and reached out to Camden Fellows, who put her in touch with the Rutgers Law Professor Meredith Schalick. Professor Schalick worked with graduate students to submit a petition to the Superior Court of New Jersey in September of 2021. By January 2022, Brianna’s expungement was granted, and through the Rutgers Civil Practice Clinic, her juvenile criminal record was permanently removed.
Brianna’s story is a beautiful testimony to the amazing community at Rutgers Camden which is built around helping each other succeed, knowing we are all better when we support one another. Brianna’s advice to anyone in a similar situation to hers would be to use their resources to the fullest and to not be afraid to ask for help to achieve whatever you want to do.
“Do your homework because you never know when there’s gonna be an opportunity for you to get help with a situation. I ended up being blessed with going to a school that helped me get my record expunged, and got me into a business school, all in my own hometown. I just can’t thank the university enough for what they have done for me and just putting me in contact with great professionals throughout my time at the university.”