by Terence Way, Photos by Su Phelps

On Friday afternoon of May 18th, the Las Vegas Police Department (or Metro) hosted a graduation for about two dozen graduates of Hope for Prisoners (HFP), a non-profit organization dedicated to fully train, support, and reintegrate ex-offenders into society. The commencement and speeches were headlined by Senator Dean Heller. In attendance included many law enforcement officers, business, spiritual and community leaders, and friends and family of the graduates. Amongst the audience was also Richard Beasley, a retired FBI agent.

Other speakers included Alberto De La Paz, President & CEO of DLP Services, a major hiring partner for HFP, Clark County Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank, who served in the US Army for seven years, and Wes Duncan, an attorney who is still serving as a Major in the US Air Force Reserve (who also happens to be running for Nevada Attorney General).

But what was so special about all this? A large part of it should be the graduates’ recidivism rates. At about six percent, it’s roughly TEN TIMES LOWER than the national average, and many times lower than Nevada’s. Furthermore, jurisdictions around the country are currently looking to replicate HFP’s model!

Once accepted, HFP provides hopefuls with eighteen months of comprehensive and holistic training in leadership, skills, and mentorship to help hopefuls integrate back into the workforce, community and their families. Graduates may also “pay it forward” by mentoring future hopefuls. A HUGE part of the program is the continued support by many levels of law enforcement, churches, businesses, and more. Supporting businesses also hire many graduates, which typically is a major hurdle for ex-felons.

At the center of this is Jon D. Ponder, the well-spoken CEO. Inspired by life experiences and divine vision, he founded Hope for Prisoners nine years ago. Jon is quick to point out humbly that a big part of the success is attributed to prayer. It was instrumental in his own journey away from his former life as a repeat offending felon into an inspirational leader. Richard Beasley was the arresting FBI agent on Jon’s bank robbery case fifteen years ago. After getting to know Jon while he was in the “system”, they developed a friendship, which led to Richard often praying with Jon on his redemptive journey. That friendship and support inspired Jon to pay it forward, leading to over three thousand HFP graduates!

And these good works have been noticed… Several cities around the country are opening HFP branch offices. GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan has publicly lauded Jon. And in early May, on the White House Rose Garden, President Donald J. Trump personally introduced Jon at the National Day of Prayer, who joked that he didn’t look much like a bank robber anymore. The President also affirmed Jon as a “living testament to the power of prayer”. In turn, this led to a nationally televised interview on Fox News Channel!

A critical part of the hopefuls and graduates support system is the mentor support. Here are a few:

Kiera RaShon, a former Staff Sergeant with the Air Force (who just earned her Master’s Degree), is still in daily contact with her mentee, even though she just moved to Florida with her newly commissioned husband and young family. Charles Navarro, who is currently a Master at Arms (PO2) in the Navy Reserve, believes that volunteering for HFP is one of the best ways to serve the community. Air Force Technical Sergeant Antonius Jones, in active duty for seventeen years, was inspired after speaking to Jon Ponder. “Tony” is amazed at the transformation the hopefuls go through.

They all believed that this program is analogous to a ‘big-brother/sister’ program for adults, and that a mentor’s impact can be profound. Serendipitously, many volunteers were surprised by their own personal growth while mentoring the hopefuls.

Those looking to donate their time, money, or experience, and help transform lives should seriously explore Hope for Prisoners’ offerings; each success story positively impacts the community and society, not just the individuals and their families. One alternative way to look at it is – individuals are less of a burden on society as taxpayers rather than as inmates.

Finally, Jon Ponder would like to encourage anyone that is interested to consider taking advantage of their one-day Mentor Certification workshops being held in Las Vegas. HFP can be reached at 702-586-1371. Their website and calendar can also be browsed at: