This Thanksgiving, Dayton native James E. Young is grateful for an extraordinary gift from Gov. Mike DeWine: a full pardon.
“It’s been a journey and I’m so grateful to Gov. DeWine that I was selected. I mean, it’s a game changer for my life,” Young said this week. “It is an honor and I’m so very humbled for this opportunity. I truly believe that it’s bigger than what I think at this particular moment. I know God has big plans for me and I hope I can continue to be worthy of this.”
Young, 60, is the first — and so far only Ohioan — pardoned by DeWine.
The son of two Dayton Public School teachers, Young’s life slid off track in 1989 when he began selling cocaine during a stretch of unemployment. He got caught in an undercover sting.
Convicted of drug trafficking charges in December 1989, Young lost an appeal and served time in prison from 1991 to 1998.
Young found ways to make doing time a positive experience: he taught GED classes, created a life skills class and volunteered to read and write letters for inmates who were illiterate.
“I was able to learn about myself. I was able to sit there and dream again and become hungry and motivated and believing in myself again,” Young said. “You know what, it’s not where you started, it’s where you finish.”
He was released from parole in 1999 and he hasn’t even gotten a traffic ticket since then, records show.
“Well, when you’ve lost everything and embarrassed yourself and your family and you know that was never who you were to begin with all you want to do is do good,” Young said.
Shortly after being released from parole, Young moved to Atlanta where he found work, rebuilt his life and tried to give back. Several times a year, he speaks to jail and prison inmates.
“Motivational speaking, if you will. I give them my testimony of how this happened to me and how I overcame this and that this does not have to be your future,” Young said. “You can be one and done. It’s all about choices and decisions.”
In Ohio, Young held a license as a mortgage loan originator. But his felony conviction blocked him from obtaining the same license in Georgia. Georgia state officials told Young he should apply for a pardon in Ohio.
Young said he didn’t even know governor’s had the power to pardon — he thought it was something presidents did at the end of their terms.
The Ohio Constitution authorizes the governor to issue commutations or pardons. A commutation lessens the punishment for a crime and a pardon wipes it off the offender’s record.
The governor is required to wait until the Ohio Parole Board makes a recommendation before deciding a clemency request. In the first six months of 2019, the Parole Board reviewed 164 clemency requests – 76 commutations, 86 pardons, 1 reprieve and 1 death row case. The board was in favor of clemency in four of those cases, including Young’s.
DeWine said he granted the pardon after looking at Young’s clean record after prison, his need for professional licensing and the Parole Board’s unanimous recommendation.
“You have to look at the totality of the circumstances and you kind of look at your gut instinct and go with that. It made sense to grant him this pardon and continue in his career,” DeWine said.
The governor said in the coming weeks, he’ll be deciding more of the 400 pending clemency requests and next week he’ll hold a press conference on the matter of pardons.
Young, now a father of three grown daughters and six grandchildren, said he wants to make the most of this second chance by returning to the mortgage loan industry, publishing his poems, speaking to prisoners and being a positive light for others.
“I think that everybody should have the opportunity to be redeemed, to be forgiven,” Young said. “I believe that the majority are not perfect people, and so many people have done things and never got caught. For those who got in trouble, you take advantage of your second chance because you’ve been given a great opportunity and a responsibility. First of all, to prove that they did not make a mistake by giving you that second chance and to share your knowledge, your experience. You learn as much from failure as you do from success.”
He added: “My job is to continue to be a positive light to others and encourage everybody to never stop dreaming, no matter how old, no matter how young, no matter how the obstacles stack up against you. Don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop believing.”
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