Life-changing program allows Philly judge to wipe felony gun charges clean: 'They let us be people again'

The Philadelphia District attorney believes there’s a group of first-time gun offenders who can be counseled to stay free of crime in exchange for having their records cleared.

Antonio Stewart’s life was changed inside a 9th floor city courtroom. 

He is part of a group of about a dozen young men and a woman, all charged with illegal carrying a gun, who had their felony charges wiped away after a program designed to give them another chance. 

Jared Patterson lives in Germantown. "We basically got our lives back. We were accused of a crime, but they let us in the program. Let us be people again," he said.

The program, Alternative Felony Disposition or AFD, takes first-time offenders for illegally carrying a gun and runs them through a half-year program of weekly meetings with social workers, focuses them on finding work or school and staying free of crime. 

"I was terrified that my life was going to be completely different; changed the whole trajectory," said Stephen Goda of Northeast Philly. "After this program I feel anything is possible."

AFD is run out of the D.A.’s office and is an answer to what it claims are young men, mostly of color and poor, illegally carrying guns for protection not crime. 

Narisse Evans of West Philadelphia said he carried to stay safe. "What was going on in this day and age," he said. "Basically, just to protect myself."

The D.A., in attendance as a judge dropped the gun charges, argues it’s about  public safety. Larry Krasner argues, "our rate of recidivism is only 5 % for this crew. For people convicted, it’s 20 % call me crazy, but I think we should do what makes the public safer."

Leaving court, the young men waved their "no prosecution letters" a clean slate for them and those who love them.

Tracey Patterson came to court to see her son cleared of the life-altering charge. 

"I feel he should be held accountable for the decision he made, but I also appreciate the fact he has a second chance to reset."