Getting my real estate broker’s license was a dream that I finally achieved after spending nearly two decades in prison and ultimately being exonerated for a crime I didn’t commit. My professional license allowed me to start a real estate business that helps formerly incarcerated people to buy homes and to build their careers.
As Connecticut faces financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, improved professional licensing access is a way to strengthen the economy and open opportunities for higher-income employment. Unfortunately, people with criminal records are too often disqualified or discouraged from licensed professions.
Specifically, I’ve seen formerly incarcerated employees, and my son, hesitate about pursuing this path because of uncertainty about how the licensing board will view their records. As a business owner, I want members of my team to advance and become licensed real estate agents. As someone who personally went through the reentry process I know the importance of meaningful work in rebuilding life after prison.
That is why state lawmakers should pass House Bill 6445, which improves second chances by reducing barriers to professional licensing for people with convictions.
When I was 25 years old, I attended a real estate seminar in New Haven and found my purpose. Becoming a licensed real estate agent was a way that I could help families like mine to build economic power through homeownership.
I completed the required 60 hours of coursework and was studying for the licensing exam when my life was turned upside down. In 1991, I was arrested for a double murder that I did not commit. It would take 19 years for me to finally prove my innocence and gain my freedom.
In 2015, I was officially exonerated and started piecing my life back together. The best way to replace what the system had taken from me, I decided, would be to pick up right where I left off. I took the real estate exam and, after a 20-year delay, finally got my license.
Since then I have built a business that provides work for 18 people and sells properties throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. Through my company, I can fulfill my life’s mission of connecting people with brighter futures.
Many of my independent contractors were in the criminal justice system, and I am mentoring them toward real estate careers and home purchase workshops. However, they remain hesitant about pursuing a real estate license. How will the licensing board view their conviction? Will they complete coursework and the exam only to be rejected?
My wrongful incarceration forced my son to grow up without me, and he got caught in the system. He wanted to become a real estate broker, but he was concerned about investing time and money without knowing what to expect from the licensing board. It took a lot of preparation and encouragement, but he was approved for the license. But the process made me wonder how many others in his situation were deterred or delayed in pursuing their dreams.
Of course, my son and employees could continue doing behind-the-scenes work without a license, but they should be able to take the next step in their careers. House Bill 6445 will make a difference for people in their situations by providing clarity about how licensing boards will consider convictions.
The bill requires several agencies to consider ways to pre-clear applicants before they invest in training and education. It removes an outdated requirement that applicants in some occupations possess “good moral character,” and clarifies that there must be case-specific considerations of felony convictions.
As a business owner and formerly incarcerated person, removing barriers to work matters. Connecticut lawmakers can take a significant step towards a fair, inclusive economic recovery by passing this bill.
Scott Lewis was exonerated of a double murder in New Haven after spending 19 years in prison. He is the owner of Lewis Real Estate Services.