‘A cup of pardon’
By: Brad Rowland
By the age of 22, Andy Forsythe was in and out of jail and facing addiction issues, in addition to pending criminal charges. By the grace of God, Forsythe made his way to the parking lot of a local center in Tennessee, found sobriety, and moved to the city of Cleveland with entry into a halfway house. Forsythe had a connection to The Salvation Army, in part through Sergeant Ruth Forgey, corps administrator in Cleveland, and that relationship proved fruitful.
Sgt. Forgey ran into Forsythe at Inman Coffee, an outreach effort in Cleveland, and the pair reconnected with a conversation that would change the course of Forsythe’s life.
“I first met Andy when he was a teen,” Sgt. Forgey said. “His mom brought him in for alcohol and drug counseling and began to experiment with marijuana and drinking. His mom remained in counseling with me throughout the years and I kept up with Andy’s descent into the world of addiction, including his criminal activities through her, but I also kept up with his recovery. He moved from Chattanooga into a halfway house in Cleveland following a residential treatment program. We met several times throughout the years to discuss issues and challenges as they arose. So, running into him in the coffeehouse and the ensuing conversation was natural. We had a long relationship and I respected him and all that he had accomplished.”
Forsythe’s sobriety reached the 12-year mark before he encountered Sgt. Forgey, but he was facing challenges with ascending in his employment due to felonies on his criminal record. Sgt. Forgey inquired to see if these charges were expungable through a traditional avenue but, after finding out they were not, she encouraged Forsythe to apply for a pardon, not knowing the full scope of what such a petition would entail.
After an exhaustive information-gathering effort, Forsythe and Sgt. Forgey uncovered the necessary information and reached out to local figures familiar with the law for assistance. Tennessee state representative Dan Howell, who also sits on The Salvation Army’s advisory board in the region, aided the process and, eventually, Forsythe received a letter that a panel would hear his case in Nashville.
Sgt. Forgey and others spoke to the panel on Forsythe’s behalf, with Andy also providing his personal testimony and backstory. Ultimately, the panel didn’t take long to ponder his petition.
“We were surprised, but they huddled up like a football team right then and there,” said Sgt. Forgey. They all sat back down, and the lead voice of the panel said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Forsythe. We get requests for pardons regularly and most are denied, but you are the reason we come to work every day, and I vote 100 percent yes.’”
Each member of the panel voted in favor of a pardon and, after it was submitted to the Tennessee Governor’s Office, the pardon was eventually granted. This kickstarted a process of further growth for Forsythe, who finished an educational degree and found a job at a local paper company, only to be laid off due to organizational downsizing. With the pardon clearing his record, this proved to be a blessing in disguise.
In December 2021, Forsythe was hired by NASA after a thorough vetting process, and his official title is engineering technician with the Artemis program. Artemis is a robotic and human Moon exploration program led by the U.S. space agency and NASA, with insight from three partner agencies.
Forsythe recently spoke on behalf of The Salvation Army at a banquet and continues to volunteer for The Salvation Army in Tennessee. His experience, and that of Sgt. Forgey, will also inform future assistance of others, as Sgt. Forgey garnered valuable insight along the long and winding road.
“From the moment Andy connected with me, it was about a three-year process, in part because I didn’t know what to do,” Sgt. Forgey said. “Thank the Lord that we figured it out together, and now I know what to do in the future to maybe help others in similar circumstances. I’ve used a devotional about it called ‘A Cup of Pardon’ because he came to the shop looking for coffee and left with a pardon.”
“As long as there is breath, there is hope,” Sgt. Forgey continued. “Our past can inform our present, but it does not have to dictate our future. The Salvation Army has officers, staff, volunteers, and mentors willing to journey with people who need support, guidance, and a friend. Circumstances are often temporary, and most problems are just opportunities for solutions. We are here to help! Andy never dreamed that coming in for a cup of coffee one afternoon would result in a pardon, but it did.”