By: AIF Staff
Earlier this week, in a moving ceremony, President Donald Trump issued a formal pardon for Jon Ponder, who was previously convicted of bank robbery and who, after serving his sentence, went on to found HOPE for Prisoners, a nationally recognized, Las Vegas-based organization that provides a number of reentry and reintegration services to men and women exiting various parts of our judicial system. Ponder’s story is one of redemption and shows how policymakers can help individuals make the most of their second chance and make an impact in the lives of others.
American Idea Foundation President and former House Speaker Paul Ryan has been fortunate to develop a relationship with Ponder and HOPE for Prisoners over the years, and he was delighted to see the President recognize their efforts. In describing the transformative work that Ponder has done, President Trump said:
“He has created one of the most successful reentry programs, HOPE for Prisoners, in Las Vegas. HOPE for Prisoners is a movement that began as a dream, in a tiny prison cell, and is now making a difference in the lives of thousands, truly bringing hope that there is an opportunity and a community that is waiting and willing to offer them a second chance.”
During a 2018 visit, Speaker Ryan spoke with Jon Ponder and met with program partners and individual participants to learn how they are rebuilding their lives and recognizing their versions of the American Dream after paying their debt to society.
As the Las Vegas Review-Journal covered at the time:
House Speaker Paul Ryan joined former U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy in Las Vegas for a panel discussion on criminal justice reform with participants in a program that Ryan says should be an example for the entire country.
The private discussion, held at the Las Vegas-based Hope for Prisoners office, included law enforcement officials and elected leaders such as Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and former Nevada Gov. Robert List….
“What I’m so impressed with Hope for Prisoners is the fact that you do this in conjunction with local law enforcement, with the DA, with local elected officials,” Ryan said, sitting at a table flanked by Hardy and Ponder. “That, to me, is extremely impressive.”
In touring the facility and in his discussion with HOPE for Prisoners’ graduates, Ryan focused on how the HOPE for Prisoners’ model is results-driven and aimed at helping one individual at a time get the customized support necessary to become forces of good in their communities.
Since its creation in 2004, HOPE for Prisoners has assisted over 3,000 individuals and their program participants have just a 6% recidivism rate. It has been recognized by policymakers from across the ideological spectrum for its innovative programming and personalized approach to recidivism reduction. Earlier in 2020, President Trump addressed a group of HOPE for Prisoner program graduates, stating in part:
“We are here to reaffirm that America is a nation that believes in redemption. And that’s what it’s about: redemption.…You’re returning to your families. You have paid your debt to society and shown a commitment to change. You’ve overcome many challenges: broken free of addiction, learned new skills, and replaced old habits with fresh resolve….
“And now you have a chance to begin a new chapter that you are proud to call your own. And I have little doubt you’re going to be very, very successful. Your future does not have to be defined by the mistakes of the past.”
Without question, the HOPE for Prisoners model of success is one that needs to be looked at by policymakers and replicated by community leaders around the country. Every day, Jon Ponder and his team are helping individuals’ build lives of purpose one step at a time. This work is not easy, but it is making a huge impact in Nevada.
Through their mentorship programs, their vocational training models, and their emphasis on financial responsibility and life skills, HOPE for Prisoners is working person-to-person, soul-to-soul, to assist individuals get back on their feet. Their efforts have ripple effects reverberating in neighborhoods around Las Vegas and are yielding impressive results.
They have developed a model that involves local officials, community leaders, and members of our criminal justice system who all work in tandem to reduce recidivism and encourage successful reintegration into our communities. It is very similar to the approaches taken by United Health Care and JPMorgan Chase, which Speaker Ryan highlighted this summer in a virtual panel discussion entitled 2nd Chances: Developing New Solutions for Returning Citizens.
The work that Jon Ponder is doing is inspiring, and as lawmakers from both parties examine reforms to our criminal justice system, their learning from groups like HOPE for Prisoners will undoubtedly improve public policy outcomes.
Consistent with its mission of promoting public policies and evidence-based models that expand the American Idea and advance upward mobility and economic opportunities, Speaker Ryan has focused on reforming our criminal justice system since leaving Congress. Earlier this year, he penned a foreword for the journal, Rethinking Reentry, produced by the American Enterprise Institute, which detailed a host of strategies to reorient our criminal justice system so it better promotes reintegration and redemption, as opposed to just retribution.
The President’s pardon of Jon Ponder and his highlighting of HOPE for Prisoners put a bright light on an individual and an organization making a tangible difference in the lives of others, and Ponder’s work should serve as a reminder of how powerful a second chance can be.