Saturday, October 21, 2017

Welcoming them home

With an organization aimed at helping ex-offenders succeed, Jon Ponder brings a new sense of hope.

BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD

Hope for Prisoners founder Jon Ponder.

There was a time when Jon Ponder was probably the last man anyone would turn to in times of trouble. As a young man growing up in New York City, he was in and out of correctional facilities. Things didn’t get much better for him as an adult in Nevada: a series of bad choices led to a stint in federal prison for bank robbery.

His time behind bars led Ponder to take stock of the mistakes and circumstances that led to his incarceration, and those moments of self-reflection led him to found the non-profit organization Hope for Prisoners. It is a re-entry program that helps connect ex-offenders to resources that will help them lead successful, law-abiding lives.

“We work with men, women and young adults who are exiting different arenas of the judicial system, and provide supportive services to help them return successfully back into society and with their families,” explained Ponder, who serves as the organization’s executive officer. “We address the many needs of the ex-offender, which also includes getting them acclimated back into their families’ lives. This is a missed mark of many re-entry programs, which sometimes put their focus on immediately getting the ex-offender employment instead of addressing their individual emotional needs, growth and reconnecting them with their families. We should always be mindful that individuals who are returning home have wives, kids, husbands and so forth. We want to prepare them for the transition, so that ex-offenders become sustainable leaders in the community.”

Since it was founded in 2009, Hope for Prisoners has already assisted more than 700 ex-offenders. Ponder is proud to report that the vast majority have been successful in finding full-time employment and staying out of jail.  “The most surprising thing I have noticed while administering the program is that the majority of participants really want to change their lives for the better — but they don’t know how,” he said. “Many probation officers and law enforcement officials expect the … ex-offender to enter into society ready to work and become a productive citizen. But what many don’t realize is that many of the ex-offenders really never worked a real job in their lives. What our program provides is side-by-side assistance with these individuals, to create reference points that have never existed before.”

Offering intense life skill and developmental workshops, Hope for Prisoners collaborates with community partners, faith-based organizations and the Metropolitan Police Department to offer a “stand-by-me” mentoring program. According to Ponder, “Each participant is required to attend mandatory workshops that include: the importance of a winning attitude; understanding personality traits in themselves and others; communication skills; budgeting; goal-setting; banking; time management; and dressing for success. We have no more than 26 individuals in one graduating class in order to give everyone individual attention. After graduating, each participant is required to take part in the 18-month mentoring program that helps them overcome obstacles on their journey to success. I am really excited about the 71 percent … who successfully graduate from our program and find full-time employment.”

Hope for Prisoners, which is financially supported by private contributions, also provides ex-offenders with resources to find housing, food, health care and transportation. “We are so happy to have private sector collaborating partners who are willing to hire participants in our program after they finish their mandatory workshops and technical assistance training,” Ponder said.

From an achievement standpoint, one of the organization’s proudest moments was playing a key role in passage of legislation that gives ex-offenders the right to secure Nevada state identification upon leaving prison.

Said Ponder of the moment Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the bill into law: “It was a great day.”

For additional information, call (702) 586-1371 or go online to www.HopeforPrisoners.org


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