Forty years ago, Clemmie Johnson had her first experience with the criminal justice system. As a young mother, she needed food stamps to make ends meet. When Clemmie found a job, she failed to report her new employment in a timely enough manner to the benefits office. She was charged and convicted of felony fraud as a result. This conviction would follow her for the next 40 years. Clemmie worked hard to improve life for herself and her family. She found jobs over the years, but her record made it difficult to build a meaningful, family sustaining career.
But Clemmie persisted. She had been working at Luxottica for ten years in claims processing when the company downsized, putting her back in the job market again in 2015. Despite Clemmie’s background and training in processing healthcare and insurance claims, she was barred from those employment opportunities due to the collateral sanctions of her felony conviction.
Clemmie was referred to Yaacov Delaney of OJPC through OJPC’s partnership with Cincinnati Works. Yaacov explained that a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) would be a good option for Clemmie, and he assisted her through the application process. Clemmie was granted her CQE on May 24, 2016, in the same hearing session in which OJPC client Valerie Pettis received her CQE. Despite their different backgrounds and experiences, their circumstances brought these two women to court on the same day to be granted a second chance.
The CQE removed legal restrictions to licensing and employment, and the judge determined that Clemmie was safe and suitable for work in the insurance fi eld. But, after studying and passing the professional-licensing test, Clemmie was still denied her license by the Ohio Department of Insurance.
The reason for the refusal was her criminal record. “What made me want to fight,” Clemmie said, “is that I got pissed off when told by a representative of the Ohio Department of Insurance that with my background, I would never get a license to sell insurance. I just didn’t think it was fair, if you’ve proven to yourself and to society that you’ve bettered yourself. Why is a 40 year old record still being held against me?”
Sasha Naiman, OJPC’s lead attorney for the Second Chance Clinics, assisted Clemmie in appealing the Department’s decision and represented Clemmie at an administrative hearing. “Sasha went with me to Columbus to appear in front of the panel, and I was allowed the opportunity to explain my background and experience.” The hearing officer was persuaded by Clemmie’s CQE, her education, and her determination to improve her life. The denial was overturned, and Clemmie was granted her insurance license on December 21st.
With the support and advocacy of OJPC staff , Clemmie removed critical barriers to employment and planted the seeds of success in her career. And it didn’t take long for opportunity to grow…she was recently hired by State Farm Insurance! “I just don’t want people to give up,” she said. “If you believe and know in your heart that you’ve changed, you can’t give up. If I’m able to help one person with my story, I’m grateful.”