Former Inmate Becomes a Lawyer
By Csaba Sukosd | May 19, 2023
Damon Davis is one of Ohio's newest attorneys to take the oath during the May Ohio bar admissions ceremony.
"Even in prison I never lost hope, faith in the future," said Davis, who spent more than four years in federal prison on drug and weapons charges.
He and the other new attorneys who successfully passed the February Ohio Bar Examination celebrated the beginning of their legal careers at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus. Each has their reasons for wanting to practice law. For Davis, it's to prevent others from what he experienced in 2007.
"I remember standing in a federal courtroom feeling like I had no voice, feeling like the guy representing me didn't care," said Davis, now 46.
In prison, he found that voice, helping to teach and defend himself and others. A fellow inmate recognized Davis was spending a lot of time in the library, tutoring people to earn their GED diploma. He offered to show Davis how to research the law and write appeals.
"He was such a good teacher in helping me narrow down issues and add facts to apply to the law," said Davis. "He was fighting an appeal on his case. We got 10 years cut off his sentence."
Davis served his time, and when he was released, he was homeless with only $26. But he kept the faith that he learned from his single mother who raised him and three siblings. He found a factory job that offered tuition reimbursement, working 12-hour overnight shifts then attending college during the day. Despite sleep often limited to naps in his car, the psychology major maintained a 3.5 GPA. As he approached graduation, he kept thinking back to his time in the prison library and how it became a calling.
"Coming to law school was always with the goal of helping others and improving my community," Davis said.
His received a scholarship from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Law. During his time at UC, he worked as a legal fellow, assisting with appeals to overturn convictions. His own conviction was something he would need to address if he wanted to become an attorney in Ohio.
As part of the application process to become licensed, he underwent a background check by the Supreme Court of Ohio's Board of Character and Fitness. The board reported its investigation to the Supreme Court justices who approve or deny all applications. Davis took accountability for his actions, showed remorse, and has since dedicated himself to serving others. He's the only person with an adult felony conviction since 2010 to have his application approved by the justices.
"I had been in the thick of it for so long, it was a moment for me to exhale. The joy came from reading the decision of how emphatic it was in my favor," he said.
Now, he has another moment to appreciate as he walks across the Ohio Theatre stage, receiving his law license and a congratulatory handshake from Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy.
"If you do the right thing, people will notice. They'll judge you by where you are and not where you come from," said Davis.