The State Board of Pardons and Paroles hosted an unusual visitor Tuesday—someone who has actually been pardoned.
A white-haired grandmother stood before the board and told a story of domestic violence, addiction and crime—and ultimately redemption and service.
Chairman Terry Barnard said it was, if not the first, then among the first times a person who’s been pardoned has come back to the board to talk about it.
The board—the only entity in Georgia with the constitutional authority to commute a death sentence—has the power to grant pardons in certain circumstances where all conditions have been met, including satisfaction of sentences, fines and probation.
The board granted Suzanne Kilgore a full pardon in 2017 for drug-related convictions in 1987 and 2003.
She stood before the board Tuesday and told a story that started with domestic violence—abuse that she kept hidden from her parents, a state trooper and a lab technician. She said she would peel herself off the floor to go to work with black eyes. Her job was in a hospital pharmacy. She began medicating herself. She was convicted on drug-related charges in 1987 and sought treatment to avoid prison. But she spiraled into drug use again, with a new conviction in 2003. She said she went from pharmacy drugs to heroin and then meth. By then, she had a new husband who had recovered from addiction himself and somehow stuck by her, though she was still using meth. She finally “got clean” herself.
She went to college at 50. At 54, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Then she studied two more years to become a certified addiction recovery counselor. She’s a licensed clinical social worker.
Kilgore is now a case manager with the Rockdale County Accountability Courts working for Superior Court Judge Robert Mumford and State Court Judge Nancy Bills.
“I no longer stand before superior court judges in handcuffs looking down in shame. I hold my head high,” she said. “God’s plan for me was to use my story and my ‘lived experience’ as a vessel to help others who suffer from addiction that they too can find recovery, have a life that is second to none, gain successful careers, even as convicted felons.”
She said she and her husband had gone from living in a stolen van to building a beautiful home. She said addiction “robbed” her of being the kind of parent her daughter needed. But she has a second chance as a grandmother. “Recovery has given me the ability to be the best Mimi ever,” she said.
She thanked the board for fully restoring her rights—“even my gun rights,” she said. “That makes me happy, because I’m a hunter.”
The board sent out a news release about the speech, with a link to a video of the full meeting posted on YouTube.com.