WASHINGTON – The numbers are staggering, two-thirds of the Americans freed from prison, will return.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill along with the White House are taking steps to make changes to the justice system.
In a recent memo, President Trump stated, “our Nation emphasizes the need to prevent crime on our streets, to respect the rule of law by prosecuting individuals who break the law, and to provide opportunities for people with criminal records to earn an honest second chance.”
He also designated the month of April as "Second Chance Month."
Former inmate turned lawyer, Shon Hopwood says he knows a little something about that.
"My story starts with having to stand before a federal judge in 1998 as he sentenced me to 12 years and 3 months in federal prison,” Hopwood told CBN News.
His past wasn't pretty.
"I had robbed five banks when I was in my early 20's,” he explained.
His story has a lot in common with the other testimonies heard at Prison Fellowship’s Road to Second Chances prayer walk.
The walk featured a job fair aimed at helping former offenders.
Walkers also went throughout DC’s southeast side, praying over the schools, the neighborhood and the celebrating people, like Hopwood, who’d turned their lives around.
Hopwood was released and never looked back.
"I found that I had an aptitude for the law and started helping other prisoners while I was there,” he recalled.
While serving time, he buried his nose in law books and eventually helped reduce the sentences of his fellow inmates.
Two legal petitions Hopwood prepared in prison were granted by the United States Supreme Court.
He was even asked to help on one of those Supreme Court cases from prison.
Hopwood had a valuable skill, but even for him, the road from prison to success wasn't easy.
"It was hard. It was the height of the recession no one was finding work, let alone the guy who had just did 11 years in federal prison,” he explained.
For most offenders, it’s a vicious cycle of release and repeat.
"People, when they leave prison, face a lot of obstacles, trying to find employment, get access to education, the right to vote,” said Heather Rice-Minus, vice president of Government Affairs for Prison Fellowship.
For 40 years, the Prison Fellowship has used the love of Christ along with mentorship, and job training to overturn those obstacles.
They also work to make changes to the criminal justice system.
The ministry was started by evangelist Chuck Colson.
Colson, also known as “Nixon’s Hatchet Man”, served time in federal prison for obstruction of justice after the Watergate scandal.
Upon release, he vowed to never forget his fellow inmates.
Former inmates say ministries like Prison Fellowship; can mean the difference between reformation and recidivism.
“We do a lot of work inside prisons to prepare people for that reentry time and then we link them with churches once they're released so they can find a welcoming place when they go home,” Rice-Minus explained.
A Fresh Start
After bouncing from group home to group home Samuel Perez found his family in the streets, leading to a life of crime and 11/2 years in prison.
“While this was one of the lowest points of my life, it was also one of the best, because this was around the time that I began to pursue my relationship with Jesus Christ or really, he began to pursue me,” Perez said with a smile.
Perez, says even though Jesus may have forgiven him, that didn't mean society had.
"Regardless of the changes that you make, regardless of how far removed you are from the crime that you've committed, you are always labeled as an ex-felon,” he explained.
The recent Liberty University graduate is working to take the next steps in his life, and like Colson hasn’t forgotten those he left behind.
He now works with Prison Fellowship to help fellow former inmates.
Change the Policy, Change Society
Hopwood is helping former inmates too but he’s going after the policy change.
“I do litigation on behalf of people,” he explained.
Recently, the Georgetown law professor was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
He has also been to the White House to discuss the criminal justice system.
“You look and we have spent trillions of dollars on the war on drugs, we have locked up hundreds of thousands of our citizens, and drug usage rates are pretty steady over an entire 30-year period,” he said in a recent interview with the Rubin Report.
“You can’t get around addiction issues by locking people up, the opioid crisis is a good example of that,’ he continued.
He says mandatory minimum sentences aren’t the key, funding for federal law enforcement and addiction treatment can be.
"You can't say ‘we are the land of liberty’ on one hand and incarcerate our citizens at a greater rate than almost any other country on the planet,” he told CBN News.
He says fixing a broken system also takes the love of the community.
"Almost every successful reentry story involves the community,” he explained.
Hopwood says that community is often found in the church; after all new beginnings are at the heart of the gospel message.
"If you believe in grace and redemption, you have to believe in second chances to people who've committed crimes,” he finished.