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December 2, 2016

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Life skills taught here: Program helps ex-inmates rejoin workforce

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Leila Navidi

Graduate Alynn Daniels, right, hugs trainer Barbara Loupe during during the Hope for Prisoners graduation ceremony in Las Vegas on Friday, June 14, 2013. Hope for Prisoners provides intensive one week training for prisoners reentering society.

Hope for Prisoners

Graduates applaud during the Hope for Prisoners graduation ceremony in Las Vegas on Friday, June 14, 2013. Hope for Prisoners provides intensive one week training for prisoners reentering society. Launch slideshow »

One year ago Alynn Daniels lay alone on the streets of Las Vegas dying from a gunshot wound after a trip trying to score methamphetamine.

He had just finished serving 2 1/2 years at Ely State Prison, a maximum-security facility, in 2011. He was released with $25 in his pocket and no direction, so he returned to the life he’d known for the past 20 years — he returned to meth.

He’s been arrested nearly 100 times because of the drug, and alienated his family. But he didn’t know how to change. Each time he returned to the same people, same neighborhood and same drug, a vicious cycle he couldn’t break.

As he lay on the ground facing the brink of death, he hoped and prayed for one more chance to redo his life.

“I had a vision and I talked to God, I asked for one more chance,” Daniels said. “Right at that second, someone walked from out of nowhere and asked me if I needed help.”

Now Daniels, 36, sits with 20 other people in a large Hope for Prisoners room as “Pomp and Circumstance” plays over a speaker. On this Friday, June 14, a timer on his phone shows that it has been exactly 11 months from the day he nearly died; the day he became sober. His girlfriend, Jessica Mack, who is pregnant with their first child, sits with other community and family members supporting the men and women.

They are all about to graduate from the Hope for Prisoners' five-day, 30-hour prevocational program. It is the first step in the nonprofit’s reacclimation program to help former prisoners readjust to society. The graduates have all made mistakes in their past, but this event is about the beginning of their future.

“Today doesn’t mark a graduation from the program, it’s the start of the next level,” said Jon Ponder, CEO of Hope for Prisoners. “We want to surround them with a team of people to help them navigate those challenges.”

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Hope for Prisoners CEO Jon Ponder during the graduation ceremony in Las Vegas on Friday, June 14, 2013. Hope for Prisoners provides intensive one week training for prisoners reentering society.

The men and women sat in folding chairs with rigid backs and wide smiles, their teary-eyes attentive on each speaker, showing off the lessons they learned from the program. The ceremony began with a series of speakers that included Chief Judge Cynthia Leung and Metro Police Lt. Chris Petko, each one proud of the graduates.

Five days ago they entered the workshop as former prisoners with no direction in their life. Many of them only sign up for the program expecting to receive a job. Daniels signed up because he struggled to keep a job, losing two within a year due to immaturity.

The workshop does address job searches, but its main focus is on laying the foundation for them to be successful. It also prepares them for its 18-month re-entry program.

They learn about having a winning attitude, going above and beyond at the workplace, how to dress for success, communication, accountability and about themselves.

“We try to teach them life skills,” Ponder said. “We want you to get a job and do everything we can to help you with that, but we want to make sure we provide you with the tools that will help you be as successful as you possibly can.”

Their most powerful assignment involves writing the details of a day in their life on June 14, 2014. The task forces the ex-inmates to envision their future, make it real. That vision establishes the ultimate guide for the rest of their life.

Most visions involve some aspects of showing love to their family, praying to God and going to work. Thomas McEniry plans to be in Disneyworld that day with wife and two kids, to give them the childhood he never had. All are thankful of growth and position in life.

After the speeches, the moment the 21 men and women have been waiting for arrives. Ponder begins calling the names of each graduate and passes out two separate certificates. From this moment forward, the men and women will begin an 18-month process with mentors to become a successful member of society.

Daniels is the first to receive his certificates. He firmly shakes Ponder’s hand and beams into the photographer’s camera to commemorate the moment. Afterward he blows a kiss to his girlfriend.

“It was unspeakable, really emotional,” Daniels said. “Words just can’t explain what I’m feeling to be able to have this opportunity to progress and transition into the community and to have all these people backing us.”

One year from Friday, Daniels will wake up to the sunrise and have a cup of coffee. He will play with his son Micah Wesley Jack Daniels, who will almost be a year old. He will go to work, and then get his car washed (the first car he’s ever owned).

Afterward, he will drive home amidst gleeful birds chirping. He will play with Micah and eat dinner.

At the end of the day he will lie down in bed with the love of his life.

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