RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A beneficiary of one of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s end-of-year criminal pardons, who currently works in state government, said she hopes her life story will help others who also are seeking second chances.
Among the four receiving a pardon of forgiveness from Cooper on Wednesday was Portia Bright-Pittman, 38, who had been convicted of being an accessory after the fact to armed robbery in Orange County in 2008.
“It was just an unspeakable joy,” Bright-Pittman told WTVD-TV about the moment when Cooper’s office called her with the news.
Bright-Pittman has worked for the North Carolina legislature for the past eight years and is now working for Rep. Sarah Crawford of Wake County. She’s also an author of children’s books.
Bright-Pittman applied for a pardon more than 10 years ago, and said her legislative job had nothing to do with her selection.
“I had no idea that I would get it, it was a long shot, but it was just me stepping out on faith saying I want to put this on file to say I am so sorry,” she said.
A governor’s pardon of forgiveness is different from a pardon of innocence, which can be issued if the applicant is determined innocent of the criminal charges and can serve as the basis to remove the charges from the person’s record.
The impact of a pardon of forgiveness isn’t as clear, according to a guide on relief from criminal convictions on the University of North Carolina School of Government website. An appeals court ruling indicated such a pardon can be used to prevent the conviction for which the pardon was issued as an aggravating factor in subsequent criminal proceedings, the guide says.
Bright-Pittman attributes her conviction in part to getting caught up in bad relationships and the wrong crowd. While the pardon document said she received a suspended sentence and probation, Bright-Pittman did spend some time behind bars.
She said doors closed for jobs because of her past activity.
“It’s like somebody throwing mud on you, you know, so for me, it’s been wiping it off, cleaning myself ... just showing people that’s not who I am,” she said. But Bright-Pittman said she did get second chances — first from a radio station and later a local politician in Greenville looking for campaign help.
Bright-Pittman advocates for those convicted of crimes as young people. In 2020, she founded NC Reentry Innovators for Success, a Greenville nonprofit that aims to assist ex-offenders return to society and if possible seek to have their official records expunged.
Bright-Pittman’s pardon said that since her conviction her record had been one of “responsible civic behavior and community service.”