“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
To meet Kenneth Curtis today is to know an earnest, soft spoken man whose eyes reveal a resolute firmness underneath. At age 60, Mr. Curtis describes himself as “accountable, on time and faithful.” Though his voice can sound weary, youthfulness comes through when he answers the telephone with “God bless you.” Mr. Curtis’s words are sparing and are used in service only of those things that mean the most to him—God, family and living on the right path.
Like us all, his life experiences make him the man he is today, and Mr. Curtis’ life path has been long. Mr. Curtis had a difficult childhood and began abusing drugs and alcohol at age 12. By his mid-twenties, Mr. Curtis had been arrested for the first of many crimes that were tied to his increasingly out-of-control addiction to alcohol and cocaine. In 1985, Mr. Curtis was convicted of his only felony for drug trafficking in order to support his own addiction. For the next 10 years, Mr. Curtis accumulated a long criminal record as he struggled to maintain a life that he did not want and increasingly wore down his body, mind and soul.
In 1994, Mr. Curtis turned a corner. His mother’s passing that year caused him to confront his true feelings about his life. He felt he had not accomplished anything. His addiction brought him nothing but emptiness. He was tired. That same year he got sober and began to cultivate his religious faith. In 1998, he became a union carpenter and began a meaningful career.
Though his career began strong, by 2010, Mr. Curtis realized that his criminal record was increasingly preventing him from finding employment. After 12 years as a successful carpenter, Mr. Curtis experienced a bitter irony that many of OJPC’s clients face: the same difficult experiences that forged Mr. Curtis’ strength of character, when viewed in isolation on a 1-page rap sheet, made him unemployable. In 2013, though Mr. Curtis’ criminal record was 19 years old, he could not find an employer willing to hire him.
In November 2013, Mr. Curtis visited OJPC’s Second Chance Community Legal Clinic to address his record. The Second Chance Clinics offer free, walk-in legal assistance aimed at helping people with criminal records overcome legal barriers to employment, housing and civic participation. Mr. Curtis was eligible for one of the newly created Certificates of Qualification for Employment (CQEs), which OJPC was instrumental in shaping and working to get passed in the Ohio Legislature in 2012. CQEs help people mitigate the damaging effects of a criminal record first by removing employment restrictions contained within state law and by protecting employers from negligent hiring liability, which is the reason employers most often cite for not hiring people with criminal records.
OJPC attorney Rob Wall helped Mr. Curtis prepare his application and represented him in the hearing where the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas agreed to grant Mr. Curtis a CQE. Though his CQE is no silver bullet, Mr. Curtis is one step closer to showing employers that he should be judged for who he is now, not solely for the person he was along the way.