Leader Spotlight: Sandra Keely

June 19, 2024
Emmaline Giles

Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) Leader Sandra Keely is on a mission: to help 1000 people expunge their criminal records. One thousand people is no small goal, but Sandra draws power from the number. “In the holy Bible, the number 1000 is very liberally used.” Sandra drew from the spiritual energy she perceives in the number not only as a goalpost, but also to name the criminal justice reform organization that she founded, 3 Daughters and 1000 Sons. The name is a nod to her three biological daughters and the many men with ties to the criminal justice system she has nurtured throughout her lifetime. 

Sandra has been deeply impacted by family members that are justice involved. In 1988, her brother, Calvin Keeley, was sentenced to 50 years in a Michigan state prison after an altercation with his girlfriend. Calvin has served 35 years of that sentence and now has severe health issues requiring him to be on a feeding tube. His family is advocating for his compassionate release. Her brother’s ordeal has affected her family in ways both big and small. “As they say… when anyone is in jail, the whole family is in jail.” Sandra’s family was impacted again several years ago, this time when her nephew became justice involved. At this point, Sandra had acquired years of professional experience as a real estate agent, a career developer in a re-entry program, and as a volunteer as a citizen deputy juvenile officer for St. Louis County courts. These experiences had given her some legal knowledge, a strong social network, and a proficiency for dealing with daunting paperwork. She was able to draw on these skills and resources to successfully get her nephew out of jail. 

Soon others were asking Sandra for help with their own justice-involved family members. Sandra saw that people in the community needed help navigating a complex and flawed criminal justice system. With the help of a Forward Through Ferguson Racial Healing and Justice Fund grant, Sandra launched 3 Daughters and 1000 Sons, which draws from the power and commitment of the community to ignite social change. Her deep understanding of the system, skillful salesmanship, and ability to call into the work influential allies that have the power to change the system are key to her success. The work of changing our justice system is a long-term battle where change comes incrementally, but her unwavering faith sustains her. 

Criminal justice reform is not something a single person can tackle alone, and Sandra emphasizes the role that community plays in this work. She often uses the phrase, “blood ties bind, and community ties, too!”

Sandra has had ties with Metropolitan Congregations United for decades. She first encountered MCU thirty years ago when she worked in real estate and MCU was offering assistance with home ownership at a time when interest rates were astronomical.

More recently she was drawn back into MCU’s orbit when another MCU leader, Susie Brown, invited Sandra to the organization’s annual gala. It was there that Sandra met MCU staff member C. Latrell Stanton, who organizes and empowers formerly incarcerated people through MCU’s EXPO program. The two recognized that their work was entwined and began collaborating. They work together on a local expungement campaign but also engage at the state level, testifying together in Jefferson City on behalf of the Missouri Clean Slate program. 

Another product of this collaboration was a town hall meeting Sandra organized called “Demystifying the Expungement Process,” which drew together leaders from the city of St. Louis on April 27th, 2024 as a way of explaining the process and encouraging those eligible to pursue expungement. Today, over 1.9 million Missourians from all walks of life face barriers to jobs, education, housing and other basic necessities because they have an arrest or conviction on their record. Clearing one's record can open doors to better jobs, housing, and more opportunities; a chance for a clean slate and a brighter future. With the recent legalization of marijuana, the list of criminal charges eligible for expungement in Missouri are increasing. 

Sandra wants to create a welcoming environment for petitioners and help steer them through what might otherwise be an overwhelming and expensive process. While Sandra recognizes the practical benefits of having your record expunged, which can remove barriers to housing and employment, she believes the need is deeper. “Spiritually, psychologically, there’s a currency and a benefit [to expungement] that people should not be denied the opportunity to experience.” For this reason, she encourages people to engage in the process, even if they have multiple records and only some are eligible for expungement. 

On Saturday, June 29th, MCU and 3 Daughters and 1000 Sons are co-hosting an Expungement Clinic from 11-4pm. The event will have food, drinks, entertainment, and on-site lawyers ready to help individuals clear their record.

For an administration fee of 369 dollars, participants can have a record expunged. This is considerably cheaper than the 1000-1500 dollars someone might typically pay on the marketplace. Participants will also be able to connect with attorneys that can help with felonies and misdemeanors. 

Sandra wants to remove the stigma of having a record, and notes that one third of all adult Americans have been involved with the criminal justice system. “There has been… [a] creep in America to criminalize its citizens.”

Sandra points to obscure, often ludicrous laws on the books that have historically been inequitably enforced, leading to black and brown communities having higher rates of involvement with the courts. For this reason, she wants everyone to know how important it is to remain politically engaged and ensure our elected officials are committed to addressing this issue. “That egg needs to be cracked open and really cooked well-done… because I don’t like my eggs runny.” 

For Expungement Clinic registration and additional information, click here. You can view a town hall panel discussion on expungement, moderated by Sandra and featuring leaders from the City of St. Louis on STL TV’s YouTube page. To learn more about our EXPO work and get involved, contact office@mcustl.com.

MCU puts faith into action by developing leaders who move their congregations, organizations and communities to change public policy for the common good.
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