12 Aug Manuel R. Class 19 Graduate
“At fourteen years old, I took a young man’s life; a crime, a sin, a scar in my soul. This affected many lives. From then on, I was surrounded by armed pickets and razor-wire fences, concrete, thick glass and steel. I was raised by officers trained to restrain and encouraged to mistreat. I was around many men who chose to be selfish, hateful and hopeless. This was a dark and empty world. Thank God I was born again! My Father and Savior had made in me a greater man waiting to bloom in a better world.
On 22 October 2014, I walked out of what most would consider a prison. I served all but a month of 20 years. In the weeks that I’ve been out I have done some new and important things. I obtained my first state identification card. I interviewed for a job and received employment for the first time in my life on my first attempt. I have earned a paycheck and opened my first bank account. I sat behind the steering wheel of a vehicle and drove in a parking lot for the first time ever. I enjoyed my first football game at a stadium in a suite with my little sister. What most of society is concerned about is the fact that I have fulfilled the stipulations of my parole and that I have a job. This helps people feel safe. I understand. One of the most fulfilling and important moments I have enjoyed since my release, though, has nothing to do with such things.
I had the opportunity to babysit my brother’s daughter and her cousin for about two hours. They are about twelve and four. We ate. The older one baked cookies. We had a pillow fight. The four-year-old swung a five pound pillow over her head to hit me well over 200 times and did not tire. The twelve-year-old said, “I’m twelve, but I like doing little girl things.” She then proceeded to swing a pillow at me without tiring.
The most beautiful thing about this experience is that these young ladies are not my blood relatives. We are related through PEP. My brother, Alfredo, is a PEP Servant-Leader of Class Noble 19. As I said before, these are not simple words. This is a walk that transcends walls. This is only the beginning.
Yes, PEP guys get out and get jobs and most stay out of prison. These things are not what make PEP special, though. The phenomenon that makes PEP special is the community and sense of brotherhood fostered from the moment we begin throughout our involvement with the brothers. We are families becoming family with other families. If we look anywhere else in America – in fact, everywhere else in America – this simple connection with others and within a community is missing. Today, I am among people who enjoy encouraging one another. I am among men and families who help and love each other. This is what PEP is all about.
I became a part of this beautiful brotherhood the hard way. I made the worst choices, the gravest mistakes and caused the most permanent pain to others. But God has always been willing to give me the grace of His will, the deepest forgiveness and life abundantly.”