35th Anniversary: Never Say Die: Jeff Johnson

Jeffrey Johnson makes no bones about his criminal record. The former state senator from Collinwood and heir apparent to Louis Stokes’ congressional seat continually refers to himself as an ex-offender.

Johnson’s offense was to help grocers in his district secure liquor and other licenses in exchange for cash. The conviction landed him in federal prison and halfway houses for 13 months during 2000 and 2001.

It did not, however, derail his political career. Today, he is the executive director of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, a group composed of the 17 African-American legislators in Columbus.

Johnson’s comeback began mere months after his incarceration ended. In 2002, he sent then-Mayor Jane Campbell, his friend and former legislative colleague, a written appeal for employment. Campbell hired Johnson for the Department of Community Relations. Eventually he was promoted to department director.

“When you are an ex-offender, you need people to give you opportunities,” Johnson explains. “The biggest boost I could ever ask for was to have that job to rebuild. I am forever appreciative of Jane Campbell.”

Days before he landed his comeback job, Johnson’s mother was hospitalized for conditions that proved fatal. “Thank God she was able to see me hired,” he says. “I’ve tried very hard to redeem myself in the eyes of family and friends.”

And, he says, he has tried to set an example for other people with criminal pasts. In keeping with his new low-profile style, this was Johnson’s first interview in the six years since he left prison. “I didn’t seek out your questions,” he points out. “But I didn’t run from the answers either.”

Johnson hopes to reapply for his law license, currently suspended, in 2008.
Share this story: