BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — A common adage holds that you can't outrun your past, but Chris Page's accomplishments as a business owner and community leader show he has been able to leave his earlier life in the dust.
The owner of Shake Rag Barber Shop has built a vibrant business in a historic part of the city, welcoming people from all walks of life into the chairs at one of his barber stations and hosting community events.
Page's influence is such that he mounted a write-in campaign for Bowling Green mayor last fall.
For his recent work in the community, though, Page still wanted to correct a self-imposed wrong from his past.
Fourteen years ago, Page found himself on the wrong side of the law, under indictment on drug trafficking charges in Barren County.
Upon pleading guilty, court records show he faced an eight-year prison sentence, and he did spend a few months behind bars before being granted shock probation.
Any criminal court judge will tell you a felony conviction can hang like a millstone from your neck, closing off previously available opportunities after you serve your sentence.
Page knew he had to go to some lengths to keep doors open, completing barber college while his court case was pending so he would have a career path on the other side of his case.
"I went straight to work and I never looked back," Page said about life after gaining his freedom. "I strengthened my relationship with the Lord, my family and friends. I remember when I would see people I had interacted with when I was on the other side of the law, I apologized to them. ... There was a lot of repentance, remorse and rebuilding myself."
As the years passed, completing barber college turned into earning a degree from Western Kentucky University, and working at a barber shop became owning a business. Prayers for a better life transformed into sermons as a pastor.
Page's process of rebuilding his life culminated in November, when he was granted a full pardon by Gov. Andy Beshear, clearing his record.
"God had to take me the long way so I would do it the right way," Page said. "In that process, I had to be patient with myself. What I did in that instant to get myself in trouble, it took 14 years to rebuild."
Attorney and Bowling Green City Commissioner Carlos Bailey put together the application packet for Page's pardon, recognizing him as a good candidate for the state's mercy when he got to know Page two years ago, soon after Shake Rag Barber Shop opened for business.
The two spoke last year in more detail about obtaining a pardon for Page, Bailey said.
"They say the past is prologue, but not all the time," Bailey said. "Chris is a great example. Through his dedication to the community and his involvement, that he's not what his past mistake once was ... you can definitely tell he's put in the work."
On Bailey's end, putting in the work involved laying out in the application packet Page's achievements after his conviction, talking about employment opportunities Page extended and partnerships with other businesses and organizations for charitable events, including hosting an annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway.
The work also entailed getting testimonials from other people in the community, and letters of recommendation poured in from Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson, City Commissioners Dana Beasley Brown and Joe Denning, Warren County Magistrate Tom Lawrence, state Rep. Patti Minter and Warren Circuit Clerk Brandi Duvall.
"I had never seen anything but good behavior out of Chris, and he deserved another chance," Lawrence said. "A person's actions, they don't lie, and when you see a person over a long block of time put together a record of good works, I was very happy to be able to help him."
The application was submitted this year before the COVID-19 pandemic transformed life as we know it.
Page said he remained patient while waiting for a response from Frankfort, but the phone call he took from Beshear last month shocked him.
The governor informed Page directly that he planned to sign the pardon paperwork that had crossed his desk.
"I had seen him on TV so much and he knew about some of the work I'd done because it had crossed his path," Page said. "I was just stunned talking to Andy Beshear, but he was like a regular fellow like we'd known each other for years."
Page shared the news of his pardon in a Facebook post on Thanksgiving.
Reflecting on his path, Page said he hopes his example can lift up others.
"I tell people it's easy to say that God has forgiven you if you have a relationship with the Lord, but it's hard sometimes to forgive yourself," Page said. "I would tell people don't allow decisions you made when you were younger to alter your whole destiny. ... Learn how to forgive yourself, learn to be patient with yourself and, last but not least, you have to put in the work."