Gina Johnson

Mr. Dan may be the CEO and I love him to death, but I’m working for God. And I believe Dan knows who he works for too. Part of what makes Nehemiah different is how much people care for you here. Really care. And so you want to care for them right back. You look out for them. You want to help them as much as you can. My family grew from the first day I started working at Nehemiah.

I know a lot about family now. But I learned it over the years. As a kid, I grew up in world of silence – my parents were both deaf mutes. My two younger sisters, brother and I didn’t find anything too unusual about it all. We had a pretty cool childhood on the streets of Downtown and later in Walnut Hills. But at 17, my life took a sudden turn. That was the year my mother died unexpectedly. I guess I didn’t adjust well to the loss. That same year I found myself at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. It didn’t feel at all like home. But in some sense it was. Over the next 30 years, I was going to spend a good portion of my life in and out of that place.


Coming out of prison is tougher than going in. You want to come home, but there is no home. Apartments are hard to find when you have a record so you end up on the street.  Over the years, I had become a single mom with three daughters and a son. My daughters, Bernitra, Ebony, and Nadene found good homes staying with their aunt and grandparents, but my son Chanze was with me. He and I found our way to a shelter but that was only temporary. For two months, we ended up living in a different church basement every week. The rules were hard. You couldn’t work. Their rules even made it hard for me to get Chanze to school on time. Life was one heartbreak after another. Looking back I realize God puts you through certain things to teach you – to make you strong. It was at St. Michael that I developed the strength to start building a solid life.

I eventually found good work at a print shop called Dot Label. Things were just starting to fall into place. But a welfare overpayment from 12 years earlier sent me back the Reformatory for one last visit. Out again, with an even tougher job search, I begged and begged my old employer to hire me back. They did. When they closed, I found work with another printer but the job was a job. I was grateful for the work. But I was a pair of hands to them more than a person. The day I showed up with a broken wrist they let me go. My daughter offered to take me in but I refused. That would make me lazy. This was no time to rest easy.


I worked three months for the U.S. Postal Service and was on the verge of being hired on full time. But once they realized I had a record, they said it was a mistake that I was allowed to work there at all. Of course I was sad but I understood. From there, I was sent to Nehemiah Manufacturing. I could see God smiling.

My kids and I have been close ever since I started turning my life around at St. Michael. My work at Nehemiah inspires me to hold my family even closer. I want my children and their beautiful grandchildren to grow stronger with each other. I want them to grow to be good parents. I want them to remember that the family that prays together stays together. And that God is good. Whoever dreamed I would have this chance to stick my key in my door. To sit in my chair. And watch my TV – without someone over my shoulder saying its time to shut it off.


What’s my dream now? I’d like to grow with Nehemiah. I’d like to find a way to give back the way they gave to me. Everyone deserves a second chance. Think about the times when you didn’t deserve a second chance but got it anyway. It’s our turn to pay it forward. Some day I’d like to find a way to arrange bus rides to prison for the children who miss their parents – for the parents who ache for the gaze of their little ones. Family is everything. For right now, I’m taking in the 18-month old son of a family friend because he needs a good home. It feels real good to be a mom again. And I smile knowing I can be there for him. In my dream, I want to believe that I’m making my mom proud.