From inmate to author, legislative staffer gets pardon from Gov. Cooper: 'Unspeakable joy'

Tom George Image
Friday, December 22, 2023
Pardoned issued for woman who spent years turning her life around
Portia Bright Pittman now works at the North Carolina State Capitol and she's a children's author.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a rare opportunity for a second chance -- getting a pardon from the governor.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced four pardons, including one for Portia Bright Pittman. Pittman has worked at the state legislature for the past eight years and is the author of several children's books about how laws are made. Her accomplishments are in part what made the governor believe she deserved a pardon.

Bright Pittman recalled the moment on her lunch break from her job at the legislature when she got the call from Cooper's office that she had been pardoned.

"It was just unspeakable joy," Pittman said.

That joy came after some much tougher chapters in her life. Back in 2008, caught up in bad relationships and the wrong crowd, she ended up convicted of accessory after the fact to a robbery with a dangerous weapon.

I did not want to end up in that jumpsuit again
Portia Bright Pittman

She spent six months behind bars.

"I did not want to end up in that jumpsuit again," she said.

Even after serving her time, she quickly learned that in some ways, the punishment never went away. Doors closed for jobs because of her past.

"It's like someone throwing mud on you, you know, so for me, it's been like cleaning myself off, showing people that's not who I am," she said.

Thankful for second chances

Slowly but surely, people gave her a chance -- first her hometown radio station, then a local politician in Greenville who decided to give her a shot when she'd never run a campaign before.

"He interviewed me. I told him what I went through, and I think we both shared a few tears as we were talking about it. But he was my person. I'm going to hire you. And I was like, Oh, my God, this is it," she recalled.

From there, Pittman continued her career in public service, working at the legislative offices for former State Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield and now State Rep. Sarah Crawford. She wrote the children's books.

All the while, her pardon application had been sitting there for more than a decade.

"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'm so sorry," she said.

Bright Pittman said people might not understand that pardons are a long process. She said her selection had nothing to do with her job at the legislature, as she applied more than 10 years ago.

Little did she know, behind the scenes, her former probation officer and others who spoke highly of her work in the community eventually prompted Cooper to make this decision.

She's grateful for a second chance, and that people chose not to judge this book by its cover.

"Thank you so much for seeing me, for who I am. I appreciate you," she said.

Bright Pittman said she wants to advocate for those in a similar situation. She said more can be done at the state and federal level to make sure that people convicted of crimes when they were younger and have since turned things around don't have that held against them in the workplace.

She added that she is proud of the North Carolina legislature for passing the Second Chance Act, which makes expungement easier for non-guilty cases and cases that happened in someone's younger years.