This story posted on March 13, 2019 by Sarah Willets at Indy Week
Linwood Thornton had just accepted that he’d never drive legally again.
His license had been suspended since June 2, 1989. A relative used his identity and got a speeding ticket that January, he says, and he didn’t know about it until he was pulled over that September, after spending three months in prison. Only then did he learn his license had been suspended for missing the court date, which he thinks occurred while he was locked up. (Court and jail records don’t go back far enough to confirm all of his story.)
Thornton went on with his life. He and his wife had five kids, and he started a home improvement business. But the suspension loomed over him. It limited what jobs he could take and what vehicles he could add to his business. It cost him time spent waiting for rides. And when he had no choice but to drive, he got new tickets for driving with a revoked license, which he couldn’t afford to pay—and three more license suspensions, a cycle that seemed insurmountable.
Eventually, he gave up.
So when he and his wife, Rosa Ann—whose license is also suspended—first heard from his brother’s girlfriend about something called the Durham Expunction and Restoration program, an initiative that began in December to connect people to free legal help with license restoration, he thought it was too good to be true.
“I just thought someone was jiving. I didn’t think it was real,” says Thornton, a tall man with an affable twang. “Me and my baby jumped up and boogied to the courthouse.”
On January 23, they arrived on the sixth floor of the Durham County courthouse, where DEAR shares a space with the county drug court. Five other people were in the waiting room talking about all they’d lost because they couldn’t legally drive.
“All our stories are the same,” Thornton said.
One woman said she spent nearly $100 a week on ride-sharing services to get to work at Durham Public Schools. If she had to drive—when she didn’t have the money or couldn’t get a ride—she was too anxious to turn the radio on.
“If you don’t have a license, you don’t really have nothing,” a man added, eliciting knowing nods. “If you don’t have a license, it’s like you don’t exist.”
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