Sheba Williams - Founder / Executive Director
It didn’t matter that I was wrongly convicted, a mother of 3 who had returned to school while working full time, to earn a Bachelor’s degree, nor did it matter that I volunteered with multiple organizations and gave my last for others. When I applied for housing, education or employment, I was a convicted felon.Sheba Williams
Ms. Williams was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. She is the mother of 3 teenagers. At the age of 10, Ms. Williams and her older sister awoke to an empty house. Her mother and father had been arrested the night before. Her mother was sentenced to 6 months in Henrico County Jail and her father was sent to Virginia's Department of Corrections, with a sentence of 38 years. That was her first memory of the injustices of the penal system in Virginia. As a child, her paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather worked together to raise her and her sister. Though her mother only served a short sentence in comparison to her father, she would never recover fully from having a felony conviction on her record. The state of Virginia was never designed to rehabilitate and allow for others to heal following a conviction.
Ms. Williams is an Armstrong Wildcat at heart, but in her sophomore year, she transferred to John Marshall High School. It was at John Marshall High School that Ms. Williams met one of her most inspirational teachers, Mrs. Odessa Smith. By coincidence, Mrs. Smith was the mother of now-famed Kemba Smith, who was a poster child for America's failed "War on Drugs". Her parents diligently advocated for her until then-President Clinton granted her clemency in 2000. Intimate conversations about the need to stay on track and be wary of the company we kept were commonplace in our Business classes. Mrs. Smith helped Ms. Williams land her first job in 1995 and was vigilant about Ms. Williams continuing her studies after graduation.
In 1997, Ms. Williams graduated #4 in her senior class of 186. She enrolled at Norfolk State University as a Business major, but after the first year, Ms. Williams left Norfolk State to return home. She gave birth to her first child in 1999. She was a single mother almost immediately. Shortly after having her oldest child, her sister was arrested for homicide; another egregious miscarriage of justice - she was later acquitted of all charges. Ms. Williams took custody of her 2 young nieces for the six month period when her sister was incarcerated; she took odd jobs to maintain her and her sister's bills. Ms. Williams would have 2 more children before she decided that her best option was to return to school. In 2003, Ms. Williams returned to Norfolk State University as a full time student. She also began working full time at a local hospital in December 2003. Ms. Williams would work 7pm - 7am, 4 nights per week, pick her children up from daycare at 7:30am, rush home to make breakfast and get them ready for school, send the kids off to their respective bus stops, then rush out to make it across town to school at 9am. Classes would end at 3pm and Ms. Williams would rush home to meet her kids at their bus stops. They'd all sit down together to do homework before it was time for dinner, baths and back to daycare while Ms. Williams worked. Over a period of 6 years, Ms. Williams learned each department on her unit and became the go-to person for everything related to registration, billing, notary services, security, and emergency services. Though the plan was to leave the hospital after graduation, her manager realized the value that Ms. Williams was to; not just her department, but to the entire unit, and asked her to remain on until they allocated money in the budget for a supervisory position for the Registration team. Ms. Williams obliged.
In 2004, while visiting Richmond, Ms. Williams was contacted by a Detective Kimbrough, with Henrico County's Police Department. She went in for questioning; in her naivety, knowing she had never done anything wrong. Her old co-worker had implicated Ms. Williams in an embezzlement case. Ms. Williams had left that employer in May 2002. The co-worker was still working for the employer and had destroyed documents and placed all of the blame on Ms. Williams, unbeknownst to her at the time. Ms. Williams was questioned and released. Shortly after, a warrant was issued for Ms. Williams' arrest in Norfolk, VA. Her small children were placed in protective custody because there was no family in the area. Ms. Williams was released on her own recognizance and ordered to appear in Henrico County Circuit Court in September 2004. Ms. Williams was assigned a court appointed attorney at arraignment; another travesty of justice. Ms. Williams reached out to her court appointed attorney on several occasions leading up to their court date; to no avail. He would not return calls, would not show for meetings, and did not call one witness that Ms. Williams asked him to subpoena for her trial date. On the date of trial, her lawyer repeatedly asked Ms. Williams to take a plea - which she adamantly refused, citing her complete innocence - and the trial by judge proceeded. Ms. Williams was convicted, alongside her co-defendant, and sentenced to 5 years probation and to repay $5,532 in restitution - the combined amount of receipts she had signed for. Her co-defendant, having been convicted previously of credit card fraud, was sentenced to jail time and nearly $50,000 in restitution - bringing to light a secret that had been well hidden - her co-defendant was a functional addict, hiding her powder cocaine addiction while appearing to be a dedicated employee. Ms. Williams requested several times that her attorney file an appeal; he would wait until the very last day to submit it, never introducing any of the information he had known about from the beginning - the appeal was denied based on a 3 judge panel's decision. Ms. Williams reached out to different groups, including the Innocence Project, who would all tell her that because there was no biological evidence to contest and she wasn't incarcerated, that they could not review her case. She felt defeated but she pushed through. She would graduate with Honors on December 10, 2006 with a BS in Business Management, become a lead associate at her job, a successful Barber Stylist, Braider and Master Instructor, and a "serial" volunteer with various groups in the Hampton Roads area - determined not to be defined by her conviction.
In 2009, Ms. Williams was still the lead Registrar at the hospital she had been at for 6 years. With the implementation of the electronic medical record system, administrative positions began to be eliminated. Ms. Williams was transferred to the Home Health Department, where they were required to run another background check. Ms. Williams was relieved of her services in November 2009, due to non-disclosure of a conviction. It didn't matter that she had worked tirelessly in her position, working eleven 12-hour shifts in a row before, rotating shifts when necessary, and even covering 2 departments at a time. It didn't matter than in the entire 6 years, she had never taken vacation, even when her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. It didn't matter that she had been a model employee who had access to personal information at all times, and never experienced a security breach. Ms. Williams was expendable because of a conviction that happened after she was hired. It was at that time that Ms. Williams returned to school to complete her Barber Stylist and Master Instructor training.
In 2012, Ms. Williams moved back home, to Richmond, VA. Ms. Williams began working with people who were hurting because they were no longer considered “whole” citizens. Losing hundreds of inalienable rights was such a burden that she was inclined to advocate for those who had done their time but weren’t allowed to move beyond their convictions. It was always about the needs of others; it was never about her own situation. She made things work for her family with little to nothing, at times, but there were so many others surrounding her that didn't have the support and resources available to navigate through life with a felony conviction in Virginia. Inspiration came from others who were surviving life after a conviction in Virginia. Inspiration came from others who didn't know where to turn, but never gave up. Inspiration came from knowing that almost 95% of individuals who were convicted of a felony in Virginia must reintegrate into society as our neighbors, leaders, brothers and sisters. With 5 others, Nolef Turns Inc. was founded in 2016 as an all-volunteer group that advocates for people with felony convictions throughout Virginia.
Through all the trials and tribulations, Ms. Williams fights tirelessly for others. She knows that there is a need for crime and punishment, but she also knows that, at some point, it should be left in the past. In order to grow as a community, we must find forgiveness in those who make mistakes. Ms. Williams firmly believes in redemption and allowing others to have access to the tools they need to be able to become self-sufficient following a felony conviction. Employment is the key - whether it be corporate employment, self-employment or entrepreneurship. Being gainfully employed is the nucleus to housing, education, family structure, crime reduction, emotional stability, and so many other things and that is the core mission of Nolef Turns Inc.