“When I received my pardon, I cried like a baby,” said Gene Hill of Miami County. “It’s up there with the birth of my children and my daughter being valedictorian of her class. It’s a phenomenal feeling.”
Hill held up his official pardon to a round of applause from the crowd. Minimum eligibility requirements for the program assert that only nonviolent convictions can be pardoned. Once a pardon is approved through the program, records for cases such as Hill’s are automatically sealed.
Hill was convicted on drug charges after trying to sell cocaine to an undercover police officer and after serving his time, he said he constantly faced obstacles while trying to find employment.
“I lost good jobs over the years because of my background, and I wound up taking what I consider “B” level positions. Most of the jobs I was able to obtain came about because I knew somebody or somebody at the company would vouch for me,” Hill said.
Hill doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.
“There is no explanation for what I did,” he said. “Just poor choices.”
The program, started in 2019, fast tracks the pardon process for “rehabilitated citizens who have consistently demonstrated that they’ve become law-abiding, contributing members of society in the years since their convictions.”
Since it began, 327 applicants have met the criteria to participate in the program. They are swiftly connected to free, one-on-one support from partnering law schools in Ohio, including the University of Dayton School of Law.
“The pardon applicants are so appreciative of the legal assistance they receive with navigating the application process and the pardon hearing,” said Joann Sahl, assistant director of the legal clinic at the University of Akron School of Law, another partnering law school. “Many of the applicants report that they would not have finished the process without the help.”
Applicants to the program must have completed the sentence for the conviction they’re seeking to pardon at least 10 years ago and have had a clean record since. They also must show a post-offense employment history or a compelling reason they haven’t been employed while demonstrating some history of volunteering or doing community service.
“Those who’ve transformed their lives after a criminal conviction deserve an opportunity to live up to their God-given potential,” DeWine said. “The pardons I’ve had the privilege of issuing as part of this program affirm the positive changes that the recipients have made in their post-conviction lives and allow them to let go of the mistakes that have been holding them back.”
Carla Thomas, a Summit County pardon recipient through the program, urged people to use her as an example of what it takes, and how, to clear up a non-violent conviction.
“I implore anyone, if you’re looking at this: Take a chance on yourself,” Thomas said. “It’s hard, it’s hard work. But have diligence, have some tenacity (and) go for it. You deserve it, you owe it to you. I definitely owed it to me.”