Follow @marymitchellYou can’t buy redemption.
You have to earn it.
That is exactly what Lisa Creason did.
Twenty years ago, she was a 19-year-old single mom, broke, with an infant daughter to feed. She tried to steal cash from a Subway cash register and was quickly caught, convicted and sent to prison, where she served one year of a three-year sentence.
Over the years, Creason has had her share of challenges, including losing a fiancé to gun violence.
But she stayed out of legal trouble. She even founded a non-profit organization that has helped other ex-convicts address some of the issues they face on re-entering the world outside prison.
Today, Creason is credited as the moral force behind the passage of Senate Bill 42, an amendment that allows individuals with any “forcible felony” other than sexual offenses to work in health professions. Forcible felonies include everything from acts of terrorism to being in a fight.
Follow @marymitchellThe “forcible felony” ban was passed in 2011 and made it difficult for someone like Creason to find employment in health care that would lift them out of poverty.
“A lot of lawmakers didn’t understand what the law actually did,” the Decatur woman says. “If a teen went into a store and shoplifted a pair of jeans, they could be punished for the rest of their life.
“It didn’t matter how long the conviction had been. It didn’t matter if you had previously been granted a waiver. They didn’t allow a back door for people who had changed their lives.
“I knew if I was able to sit down with these different politicians and actually talk face-to-face, I knew they would fight on the side of what was right,” Creason told me. “I had a lot of faith that these individuals would understand this was a counterproductive law.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to go to Decatur next week to sign the bill.
But that’s just a start.
Former felons are currently barred from getting licenses in an estimated 118 professional occupations and businesses in Illinois.
“My nursing instructor tried to get me to go over to Missouri and take my nursing boards,” Creason says. “I wouldn’t do that because then the problem wouldn’t be fixed here. This was a law that affected hundreds and hundreds of people.”
A lot of people would have settled for a rocking chair of regrets.
But Creason, who has an adult daughter, a 17-year-old adoptive son and an 11-year-old son, says giving up wasn’t an option.
“I always taught my kids that, through hard work and determination, anything is possible,” she says. “I couldn’t look at my kids and tell them that everything we had sacrificed and everything we had been looking forward to was not going to happen.”
She also saw her personal quest to become a nurse as a cause.
“When I dropped to my knees that night and prayed, my spirit told me that God wanted me to take on this battle,” she says. “I felt like this was something I had to do.”
Her efforts to get Senate Bill 42 passed took her to Springfield several times, and she witnessed up close the political warfare that has made Illinois pretty much a laughingstock.
“I left there a couple of different times almost crying,” Creason says. “It is scary to see our elected officials unable to get any business done because they are too busy bickering. But everybody found common ground on this bill.”
She’ll be in the room when Rauner signs a bill that will be life-changing and redemptive for many ex-felons.
But while the occasion certainly calls for it, there’s no big victory party planned.
“There’s no celebration, just a whole bunch of studying,” she says, “so I can take these state boards.”