Dismissal of Mount Clemens man follows years of community service – Macomb Daily
Thomas Barnes turned his life around after being convicted of low-level drug charges in 2003 at the age of 23.
But in the months that followed, his mother and grandmother died. These devastating deaths, as well as the birth of his first child soon after, “changed everything, changed the game,” he said. “It took away all my guarantees and made me grow up and decide to become a man.”
Barnes, 42, has helped thousands of young people in Mount Clemens and Macomb County avoid the mistakes he made as executive director of TCB Youth Mentoring and his involvement in Project Play-Southeast Michigan and d other community organizations.
Barnes’ relief was confirmed Thursday when he got his two convictions overturned by Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Carl Marlinga, who was the county prosecutor when his office indicted Barnes.
Barnes was aided in his request by a collaboration of several organizations sponsoring deregistration requests from deserving individuals as a result of new laws, known as Clean Slate Bills, which came into effect in April to expand eligibility for the radiation.
Lawyer Jodi Switalski, who said she became friends with Barnes last year, represented him at the hearing.
“His actions are second to none,” Switalski told Marlinga. “This man has gone above and beyond so far and in so many ways.”
In addition to Switalski’s law firm, sponsoring organizations include the Macomb County Ministerial Alliance, Southeast Michigan CARE, Turning Point, and Staying Social While Distancing, among others.
Several community leaders wrote letters of support for Barnes, and some of them attended the hearing. Among the attendees were Laura Dropp, Mayor of Mount Clemens, Joel Rutherford of the Black Leadership Council and Advisor to Governor Gretchen of the State Department for Labor and Economic Growth; Pastor Twyla Lucas of the Ministerial Alliance and Vinson Chapel AME Church in Clinton Township; and Carl Haye of TCB Youth Mentoring.
Joel Rutherford said Barnes, whose organization runs the Jermaine Jackson Community Center in Mount Clemens, is instrumental in supporting children and their development.
“Her nonprofit work is certainly driven by her genuine desire to help those less fortunate, to provide mentorship, recreation and a safe place to study after school and learn,” said Rutherford. “I’ve seen many do similar work, but rarely with the drive and passion that Thomas brings every day. No matter how difficult the journey, he has shown by his actions that it is time for his previous conviction to be overturned because he has done so much for so many people, and that is how justice can be done.
Ministerial Alliance president Pastor Kevin Lancaster said Barnes “is extremely effective in protecting young people and fostering growth.
“The features he displayed helped create more engaged, active and motivated adults to be connected with young people,” he said. “Advocacy for young people, especially in the church, helps prevent difficulties such as drug addiction, violence and suicide, which create longevity in the community.
Marlinga told Barnes he “has made himself very important to the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people because of the example you are setting.”
Marlinga repeated a cliché that a winner is “someone who stands up once more than he’s been knocked down”.
“You are a winner,” he said. “But not only are you a winner for yourself, you are a winner for a whole bunch of people who are going to see you as an example, ‘I can make a difference in my life. And you have made a difference in your life and in the lives of many other people. Thank you for being a beacon of hope.
Barnes said he knows that young people who grow up in poverty are likely to make bad choices, as he did when he was young.
“As a young man who grew up living a life of poverty, I made decisions that weren’t the best,” he said. “Since then, I have spent most of the past 20 years trying to get out of my cell. I have sworn to protect the children of our country from making mistakes like the ones I did. And I’ll keep doing it until God takes it away from me.
Macomb’s deputy prosecutor Vicki Policicchio told the judge: “He is clearly a good candidate for delisting.”
The charges struck out were manufacturing or delivering marijuana, which he said he had two ounces of, and possession of a controlled substance, cocaine, which he said was residue in a bag .
Barnes said he also wanted to credit “my mentor,” Jeff Gudeneau, who was his supervisor when he began his life in community service. He started working in a charity program where he sold Macomb Daily subscriptions to benefit local youth.
“He believed in me when no one knew my name,” he said of Gudenau.
Barnes said the TCB (Taking Care of Business) Youth Mentorship “provides a bridge to provide children with resources to lift them out of poverty” and graduate from high school.
Barnes, a Mount Clemens resident who is married to Katie and has four children, said the removal of felony convictions was important because they prevented her from volunteering at schools, including going on field trips with her daughter , due to the mandatory verification of the records of those offering their services.
“It will allow me to work with schools and children without the shadow of the past haunting me,” he said.
The local erasure organization has received more than 100 requests from people seeking to remove convictions from their cases and has moved slowly, with around 10 to 12 approved and around 20 soon on hold, Switalski said.
She found that many people are ineligible because they have been sentenced to 20 years or more or have more than three crimes on their record.
The process has been slowed down by a backlog of state attorney general’s office approvals and other documents, especially when multiple courts are involved, she said.
“It takes forever to finish them, and it’s frustrating for people,” she said. “But I’m still very optimistic about the program. People apply and do things. They are very good people in bad situations.
She said the package of laws that widened eligibility needed to be “changed” to allow more people to be eligible.
To request help, contact the sponsoring organizations.
Also, Macomb / St. Clair Michigan is working! helps launch the statewide Clean Slate (CSP) pilot program in Macomb and St. Clair counties. To apply, go to macomb-stclairworks.org/cleanslate/