August’s #FreshStartFriday is Johnny R. Johnny was released in December 2020 and immediately started focusing on building a future for himself. Within a week of Johnny’s release, he started working as a laborer for a lawn care business, seven weeks later he got a $3/hr raise, after 3 months Johnny was made the crew leader, and last month Johnny was promoted to Landscape Support & Supply Yard Manager.
After completing PEP eSchool in April, Johnny started preparing the launch of the business he created while inside of prison, Agape Village LLC. In addition to his full-time job and working on getting his business off the ground, Johnny is is going to school and preparing to start the 200 series of eSchool. Johnny encourages everyone to “Never give up, write down your goals, have enthusiasm, and be the author of your future endeavors!!!
John was released last May focused on changing his life and living up to his full potential. John was determined to do whatever it took to not only be a better man than he was when he entered prison but to continue to grow and evolve as a better father and citizen.
John returned home to his family after his release and stayed connected to PEP. He took advantage of all our reentry services and attended every virtual eSchool session. After a year of freedom, John is building his dream home on the lake, owns two vehicles and has full custody of his children. John is committed to giving back in every way possible, working hand-in-hand with his fellow PEP brothers to better his community.
Spring ’19 graduate Felipe C. Felipe was released in August 2019 with a suspended license, owing thousands of dollars in fines and a requirement to wear an ankle monitor; but he didn’t let that stop him from finishing what he started when he joined PEP.
Felipe lived at our Caleb transition house for 2 years while he paid off his debts, built up his credit and graduated from PEP eSchool. Today, Felipe has reached full independence. He recently moved into his own apartment, he has a good-paying job, his driver’s license has been fully reinstated and he is attending college part-time to get his bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“You’ve got to be willing to help yourself”
Joseph is another successful PEP #FreshStartFriday story. In less than a year since his release, Joseph is excelling in his 2nd semester of college, where he is studying real estate. He was promoted to Assistant Manager after a month and a half at his job. Also, Joseph becomes a PEP Alumni, graduating eSchool and earning his PEP wings.
Reginald is a graduate of the Estes Winter 2020 class and a 2020 PEP eSchool Alumni. Before prison, the only legal money Reginald could make was minimum wage. 14 months after being released, Reginald is now making over $70k annually. “The most important part of going through PEP was teaching me discipline. At my age, I didn’t have it. Teaching how to be a successful entrepreneur, I didn’t maintain those qualities being a business owner previously. So now, I can do that thanks to the PEP organization.” Reginald was able to achieve this success through training with PEP employment partner ForgeNow and he attributes his growth to the support from PEP Life Caddies Bobby Sharp and Jeremy Jones and encouragement from volunteer and PEP Director of Education Carl Bracy.
Greg is the current In-Prison Manager for PEP at the Oliver J. Bell Unit. He is a graduate of Class 7 the last, and according to Greg, the best class from the Hamilton unit. “I was released after spending 15 years in prison. Yes, it was a great feeling to be free after such a long time. But that elated feeling soon faded. I was placed on GPS monitor and told that it would be for a year, at the least. The restrictions placed on my movement was very constricting. I had to report once a week. I had to give an hour by hour itinerary to my parole officer, along with addresses of the places that I wanted to go. But that did not mean that I would be allowed to go to those places. My parole officer could deny them, just because. I was turned down to go to church on Sundays until I was able to obtain a letter from the pastor stating that I was allowed to attend, along with the service times. The funny thing about that is that my parole officer would not let me go to the church in order to ask for such a letter. Your classic Catch-22. I had to plot and plan just to go fill out job applications. I was riding the bus everywhere and that also had to be factored into the time equation. I am telling you this to show you that being released from prison isn’t all roses and puppy dogs. There will be some rough times. I, myself, went through a long period of self-doubt and depression. I was on the verge of giving it and going back to what I knew; alcohol, and with the downward spiral that went with that, prison. I didn’t know how to cope with this new reality that I was thrust into. I did pick up a coping mechanism, cigarettes. After not smoking for 12 years of my prison time, it only took me a month in the ‘Free World’ to pick it back up. Even when things started looking up and going my way, I held onto that crutch, and still do to this day.
We as a society devalue everything, from our moral standards to our currency. As a point of proof, let me offer this to you; how many of you can truthfully say that you will pick up a penny that you see on a sidewalk or in a parking lot? These thoughts started occurring to me when I found myself passing up a penny on the ground. Funny thing is that 10 steps before that penny, I bent over to pick up a quarter!
So when did we as a society stop valuing our own currency? I am of the belief that this is just a symptom of society devaluing everything and everybody in it. When was the last time that you said good morning to a total stranger and meant it? It is perplexing to me because when you genuinely say something nice and friendly to strangers, nine times out of ten, they will look at you as if there was something wrong with you. I was brought up with the strong moral belief that you show care and concern for others and you try to brighten their day. This is the devaluation of caring in our society.
So when did we as a society stop valuing people as individuals? I am of the belief that it is a result of political beliefs that people were devalued. We could not care less about the person down the street who is struggling to pay their bills and just survive. We tend to say things like, “thank God it isn’t me!”, and lose them from our consciousness. They are no longer a thought to us. Even if we are part of a “church”, we still tend to overlook these people even as we congratulate ourselves for “tithing”. I was brought up with the strong moral belief that you show care and concern for others. People matter! So let us get back to that core value!
In today’s society, everything is plentiful, so why are there so many hungry and homeless? As a society, we need to do better to help those in need. “but it is not my concern” is the mantra you will hear. “stop being a leftist socialist” they will say. In addition, I say to that, it is not about political beliefs, but about human morals and values. My story sums up this argument very succinctly. You see, there was a time when I was one of those “needy” people, who needed society’s compassion. I was released from prison after fifteen years. I am not trying to downplay this fact, but I needed help. I had $100 dollars to my name and told to go survive. If there were not compassionate people in society, I would be just another recidivism statistic. After twelve years on this side of the fence, I am thriving, and it is because of people who still have compassion for others. So even if I were not raised with those morals and values, why wouldn’t I lend a hand to those people in need, political and religious beliefs aside?
Therefore, I challenge you to bend over and pick up that penny. Just like people, they still have value. Show them that they have not been devalued.”
Dustin was a graduate of the Estes “Redeemed” 19 class where he won the Business Plan Competiton and was voted as “Mr. PEP” by his classmates. Dustin was released in July of 2019 after serving 7 years in prison and shares his #SecondChanceStory with us. “I didn’t have any money besides the $50 gate money they gave me, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t really have any prospects, but I wasn’t destitute. What I did have was a vision for the man I wanted to become and the life I wanted to have. I had a plan on how to get there and the skills to be able to do it, and above all, I had the unwavering and unshakable belief that it was possible and I can absolutely attribute that to my time in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, they gave me all of those things.”
Victor is a graduate of “Triumphant” Class 21, he was released from prison 6 years ago and shared his story with us for #SecondChanceMonth “My life at one point crumbled. I lost my family, and was sent to prison. I knew two things, I had to fight for what I loved, and I needed to find my true purpose in life. PEP and volunteers along with the support of my family and the Lord’s blessings changed my life.
Today, my family is complete and by the Grace of God I am a small business owner running my own company. Truly grateful for the trials I was put through to be where I am today.
Transformation starts with you, give yourself a chance.”
Our first #secondchancestory for #secondchancemonth is from Jacob Rosa, a graduate of the Estes “Soverign Kings of Winter” 2018 class. He was a drug addict for 9 years of his life losing his family and his hope…“I told myself and told God, God I don’t want to leave this place the same way I came in”. His prayer was answered when he was invited to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. His life was transformed and his relationship with his family was restored.