CINCINNATI, OH—The Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) has honored Sheila Donaldson Johnson with a day of recognition from Mayor Pureval and the City of Cincinnati for her 20 years of service with the organization and in honor of Women’s History Month.

Sheila Donaldson Johnson began working at OJPC in January of 2002 as a paralegal for executive director David Singleton when the center was still known as PRAC. Johnson was originally drawn to the mission and work of OJPC after having served time and overcoming addiction and substance abuse herself. “When we first interviewed Sheila, we immediately knew who would be running the show,” said executive director David Singleton. “Sheila is the heart of our organization and has used her personal story of perseverance, transformation, and redemption to help others in need of a second chance. We at OJPC and the community at large are incredibly lucky to have her with us in this work.”

During the ceremony, staff past and present shared stories of working with Sheila and how they grew both professionally and personally under her tutelage and wisdom.

From Tyra Patterson (Community Outreach), “I remember one thing that I love about her is her paving the way for people who are directly impacted. Her position and being at the law firm for so many years was inspiring for me and made me more comfortable standing up and speaking out for myself and other system-impacted people.” 

From Verjine Adanalian (Second Chance),” Sheila was absolutely critical to my confidence as I was establishing myself as a new attorney. During client meetings (and many phone calls in between), she assured the clients that I am trustworthy, that I care very much, and that I can do this. My age and background made clients nervous and skeptical, especially since most of their children were my age, so it sometimes felt like they were waiting for the real grownups to show up.   

But Sheila was always there to back me up. It was hard not to internalize my clients’ concerns and insecurities since I was working through my own baby lawyer growing pains. Thanks to Sheila’s support and the granted safe harbors of that day, almost every other human trafficking survivor client I have ever had has been a chain referral from those original clients. Trust is so important within the survivor and recovery communities, so I’m grateful to Sheila for trusting me and putting her reputation on the line to vouch for me. “

From Michael Zuckerman (Attorney), “Here’s a short story from pre-COVID is that when I first started at OJPC, I always looked forward to the first Friday of the month, when Second Chance would go to the Justice Center to table at the re-entry information fair. I was often teamed up with Ms. Sheila to cover the table for one of the two-hour shifts those days. Getting to be with her for those two-hour sessions and seeing how wonderfully she connected with everyone who stopped by our table – as well as getting to share some incredible laughs – was a beautiful introduction to the role OJPC is able to play in the community when world events allow us to fire on all cylinders. It was also an amazing welcome to being a full-time member of the OJPC family.

From Kevin Werner (Policy), “First, before I came to work at OJPC, I would periodically call the office to reach staffers for help in some way, usually on something related to the death penalty. Even though email existed, I would always just call. When you called the office phone number, it used to be Sheila’s voice that took you through the menu of options and directory. I came to understand that no matter who you were trying to reach, the best way to get that person was to just dial Sheila’s extension.

When I interviewed for the job, I distinctly remember being introduced to Sheila and instantly recognizing her unique voice. It was really comforting to me to put a face to the voice I would hear (and always seek out). I think she’s been the voice and soul of the organization in so many ways.

Second, I keep a note that she handwrote to me when I first started. It’s on a torn piece of yellow legal pad paper. “Just a thought.” The note lays out some needed changes to what’s eligible for sealing. I don’t know why I’ve kept it, but I am glad I have. It’s a good reminder to keep Sheila close to whatever work I am doing.”

Johnson’s work and deep love for her community has left an indelible mark on the City of Cincinnati and all of us at OJPC. Please join us today and every January 16th— Sheila Donaldson Johnson Day—to recognize her spirit, passion, and dedication to removing barriers for formerly incarcerated people.