RACINE — Former Racine Unified School Board member Lisa Parham has received a pardon from Gov. Tony Evers. It will allow Parham to run for School Board again in the future, which she plans to do.
Her pardon was one of 18 that the governor granted this week, following a June 23 virtual Governor’s Pardon Advisory Board meeting, the governor’s office announced Thursday morning.
“A pardon won’t fix the challenges facing our criminal justice system, but it can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life,” Evers said in a statement. “Each of these people earned a pardon by serving their sentence and making positive contributions to society.”
A crime almost 30 years ago
According to the press release announcing her pardon, Parham, whose full name is Shelesia Parham and is now 51, “was 23 when she forged her mother’s name on multiple withdrawal slips for her mother’s account. Her relationship with her mother is mended and she fully supports a pardon.”
The conviction happened under her married name, Shelesia Mann. After her divorce, she has since gone back to her maiden name Parham.
Parham is the owner and CEO of the Racine Mirror, Insider News Racine and the Kenosha Labor Paper. She is also planning to launch a Hispanic newspaper starting Sept. 15.
Parham was elected to the Racine Unified School Board April 7, 2015 and started serving on the board April 27.
After barely six weeks, she abruptly resigned on June 8, 2015. At the time, the district said the reason for the resignation was personal and did not specify what made Parham ineligible to hold the seat.
Parham, a 1987 graduate from Park High School, said when she ran for office she thought the conviction had been expunged from her record and that she was able to run for public office.
When she learned differently, at the advice of her attorney, she resigned from the board. She was also having some health complications at the time, she said.
“It was devastating,” Parham said.
State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, was one of several people who wrote letters of recommendation, calling on the state to pardon Parham.
In a statement, he said “Lisa made a mistake many years ago, as a young person, and I’m glad she can finally put this behind her. Lisa is an entrepreneur, community leader and mother. Lisa is a great example for young people in difficult situations, and I am grateful that Gov. Evers has acknowledged this in granting her pardon today.”
Wirch wrote that Parham reached out to the senator’s office when she was forced to resign from the school board to help but, Wirch said, he was unable to do so.
At the time, Scott Walker had been governor. During his eight years leading the state, the Wisconsin Pardon Commission was effectively disbanded and no pardons were issued.
Evers changed that course not long after he took office, issuing four pardons in October, followed by eight in November, 10 on Jan. 13 and seven on Feb. 19.
Back in action
John Tate II, a Racine alderman who is also chairman of the state Parole Commission, said that having these pardons — even on a small scale — is good for American democracy.
“As a part of our society: forgiveness are redemption are tenets of what it is to be in America,” Tate said. “Pardons are the ultimate example of what forgiveness look like.”
On top of that, Tate said that having people with conviction records run for elected office, like Parham plans to do, will lead to better government. He said that people with records have experience from which they can highlight “gaps in the system.”
But when felons are unable to vote, run for office or otherwise not fully participate in the American system, “They’re de facto second-class citizens ... in the land of opportunity where all men are created equal,” Tate said.
Can’t hold her back
Now that Parham has the pardon, she is grateful.
“It felt wonderful,” Parham said. “The first thing that came to mind is that no man can hinder me now … I don’t have to worry about this situation going ahead. I refuse to disappoint my community ever again.”
Emily Hamer of Lee Newspapers contributed to this story.
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