DECATUR – Lisa Creason was 20 in 1993 when she tried to take money from the cash register at the Subway on East Eldorado Street.
Thwarted by an employee, she ran from the store, but police tracked her down.
She was sentenced in Macon County Circuit Court to three years in prison for attempted robbery, a “forcible felony,” and for an unrelated burglary charge while three misdemeanors pending against her were dismissed.
Fast-forward 21 years, and that conviction for attempted robbery is all that stands between Creason and the ability to work as a registered nurse and begin supporting her family without public assistance.
That's because the General Assembly added forcible felonies to the Health Care Worker Background Check Act in 2011 to prevent violent and sexual offenders from obtaining or holding a license.
“Hundreds of workers went to renew their license that year, and without ever committing another crime, many of those people went from making $60,000 to $70,000 a year to living at poverty level,” the Decatur woman said.
In her own case, Creason earned an associate degree in applied science in nursing at Richland Community College in December, the same month she discovered she could not take the state licensing exam because of the attempted robbery conviction.
Creason, 42, is part of a task force put together by state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, to pass a bill amending state law so that those convicted of a forcible felony other than one requiring them to register as a sex offender would have the ability to petition the Illinois Department of Public Health for health care worker licensure.
The Illinois Senate passed the measure March 26, but the House did not follow suit before the spring legislative session adjourned.
Among Creason's supporters is state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, co-sponsor of Senate Bill 42.
You have free articles remaining.
“She is a prime example of of why we need to give people who turn their lives around a second chance to be a productive part of society,” the senator said. “This is not a wide open piece of legislation; it is carefully and narrowly crafted.”
Creason also has the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People behind her.
The organization lobbied for passage of Senate Bill 42 in the House last spring after Jeanelle Norman, president of the Decatur branch, brought Creason's case to the state NAACP's attention.
“We need health care workers, and we need economically sustainable jobs for people of color,” said George Mitchell, state NAACP president. “If you've been walking the straight and narrow, why shouldn't you have a chance at a good-paying job?”
Creason has only one other felony conviction on her record, and it's for obstruction of justice, a nonviolent offense she committed in 1999.
She is employed as a certified nurse assistant, a job she's had a waiver to work for a decade.
“I struggled for years to go to school, raising three kids on my own, to become completely independent from government assistance,” she said. “But the state says go ahead and keep being a nursing assistant and we'll give you food stamps for the rest of your life because you qualify.”
Creason still has two sons at home, ages 10 and 16, and is the temporary guardian of a 17-year-old boy.
She also has the support of Amy Schneider, her caseworker at the Northeast Community Fund's Family Investment Program, and her former teachers in the Decatur School District's CNA Program and at Richland Community College.
Karen Vercellino, associate professor of nursing at Richland, wrote a letter of support for Senate Bill 42, describing Creason as “a dedicated woman who was always on time, responsible, kind to a fault and had a great rapport with her classmates, the entire faculty, hospital and agency staffs and, most importantly, her patients.”
Jan Hunt, her CNA instructor, remembers how Creason dropped out the first time she tried to take the class but was so successful the second time around that the program hired her afterward to tutor other students.
“She made such a big turnaround, I'm behind her 100 percent, and I can't say that for all the students,” Hunt said. “She deserves to be an RN.”