He served time; can he serve on the Cleveland city council?
John A. Boyd feels his rehabilitation makes him a model of hope for those struggling as he did.
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His fate took a turn when he and his friends decided to rob a "numbers house," where illegal gambling took place.Skip to next paragraph
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"We didn't go there with the intent to hurt anyone," Boyd explains. "But there was a struggle between me and the owner over a gun. It went off.... We left, and I had no knowledge the other guy had died.
"It was an accident. But I accept the responsibility that as a result of my being there a life was lost," he says.
At age 16, Boyd pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He served eight years in the Ohio Penitentiary. When he entered prison, Boyd could barely read or write. "My mom made me promise I would go to school." And, indeed, he earned a high school diploma, associate's degrees in business management and social science, and a bachelor's degree in psychology.
Released from his first prison term in 1980, when he was 23, Boyd struggled to fit in.
"I thought I was an adult now, not a child. Man, was I naive. I was labeled as a convicted murderer and couldn't get a job. I would never even get the interview because they'd read my past conviction on my application. [If I] left it off, employers would find out and I'd get fired.
"What do you do when you can't get a job? You go back to what you were doing that landed you in prison in the first place."
His incarceration for theft and forgery in 1992, would be his last: "I realized I needed to get a grip." He didn't want his daughter Amira, then 4, growing up without him.
Faith, absent in much of his adult life, suddenly became a positive force, he says. "I don't wear it on my sleeve, but the fact of the matter is it turned my life around."
Now, to attract voters, he's using all that he's learned about service to others, the problems of absentee fathers, creating opportunities, and commitment to his community.
Recently he visited a senior center. "You could feel the animosity in the room," says Ms. Caldwell. The first questions were about his record. He asked for a show of hands of people who knew someone who'd been incarcerated. "Nearly every hand went up," she says. He asked them to give him the chance they'd offer their loved ones. "By the end they didn't want him to go."
One influential local politician, Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, is complimentary if careful: "Regardless of whether or not I agree with him on specific issues, John's candidacy is a valuable social service in that it heightens our awareness of the barriers to seeking a second chance confronted by ex-offenders." Boyd has worked on Jones's previous campaigns.
Although Boyd didn't receive The Plain Dealer's endorsement, the paper's editorial board did note April 17 that, "Boyd could continue to make a big difference.... He offers a living example of hope to the young people in one of Cleveland's poorest wards."
Boyd was pleasantly surprised by those words, but recognizes the obstacles ahead: "... my city council race is about the larger issue of being marginalized. We pay a lot of lip service to forgiveness, but do we really believe in it?"
He's tenacious in creating opportunities for himself. He works with at-risk youth, assisting with job training, life skills, and counseling as a licensed social worker assistant. But when he was denied licensure as a social worker because of his felony convictions, he stood before the state licensing board to argue his case and won.
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Can a convicted murderer deliver hope? Unequivocally yes, says Boyd, admitting, though, that he tests people's faith and that makes them uncomfortable.
You can't forgive someone halfway, he says: "The Bible is filled with folks who are on the wrong side until God came into their lives. If you say you believe in the power of God to change men's lives, then you've got to believe fully."
His victory, he adds, would be for formerly incarcerated people. "It's larger than John Boyd."