By Samantha Elwell
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
– Colossians 3:13 NIV
As District Attorney Steven B. Wolfson said at my graduation from HOPE for Prisoners, “we all make mistakes”. I have definitely made a few in my life and by the grace of God I was saved by Reno Police department and sent to prison at FMWCC. I utilized my time in Prison and didn’t just wait to be let out, I joined the Stars drug and alcohol treatment program. During that time I was taught the communication skills to be a productive member of society when released. After 18 months in the program my sentenced ended and I was released back into the world with hope and determination to start my life over. Because I was released a week earlier than expected I had the unfortunate experience of staying at a halfway home in Las Vegas where no one helped me with anything. I am not from this state and I didn’t have a State ID, a social security card, all I had was a certified copy of my birth certificate thanks to my amazing mother and a NDOC ID, thanks to Jon Ponder and his efforts with the state of Nevada. So I called a friend who lived at the After Orange house and I asked if I could come there early because I was released early. She came and got me an hour later and I was able to go to the After Orange: Halfway Home. It’s hard to put into words how much the women of this house supported and helped me re-acclimate back into society.
One of the house managers came with me to all of my appointments until I was comfortable and confident to use the bus system on my own. Within 2 days I had medical and SNAP (food benefits). Within 2 weeks I had a Nevada ID and a social security card. My next step was to enroll in the HOPE for Prisoners organization and Nevada Job Connect. Because of my affiliation with the After Orange: Halfway Home, I was immediately accepted with open arms into the HOPE family. I had a drug and alcohol evaluation and was given a primary therapist for ‘one on ones’ once a week, as well as group therapy once a week. The following workshop was completely full so I had to wait until the next workshop. During that time I became a house manager and started working for Cassandra Hein doing social media. I have followed all of the direction from Cassandra and from my counselors and my life is absolutely amazing. I work with NV-Cure, a non-profit organization helping inmates, I answer all the inmate mail and phone calls from the women wanting to come live at our home, and I assist with all of the day to day responsibilities of the house. The first week of April I spoke with Jon Ponder and he told me I will be in the next HOPE workshop and I needed to go to Nevada Job Connect to fill out the proper paper work, so I did and the workshop was inspiring.
Monday thru Friday from 7:45- 5:00 pm we are taught interview skills, time management, financial budgeting, physical, mental, and spiritual awareness. The following people were our trainers – Gregg Ketter, Barbara Loupe, Steve Beason, Wesley “2 scoops” Berry, multiple officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department including Captain Roxanne McDaris; Jackie Doyle, and of course Jon Ponder. These wonderful trainers taught me about forgiveness, taking responsibility for my actions, and most of all to stay focused and know what my focus is on, what my goal are. At the graduation, not only did Steven Wilson say ‘It’s okay to make mistakes’, but he also said ‘We are a society that forgives you’. The power of forgiveness truly heals the heart. The message of Jesus, whether you consider yourself Christian or not, is a message of love and forgiveness. Having a consciousness of forgiveness transforms all.
Today, I forgive myself for my past mistakes and I’m thankful to be surrounded by great people in the community who carry a consciousness of forgiveness. I have a different outlook on life and I am excited about it every day. Cassandra and Jamie Hein are amazing and intelligent sisters and all of their hard work and dedication has made it possible for me to give back and do the same.
DA Steven B. Wolfson then introduced me to Federal Judge James C. Mahan while he talked about how ‘friendships matter’. He’s right. When you surround yourself around successful people who share a common purpose, you become even more successful and more committed to that purpose. Thank you to the DA for your message of forgiveness. It gives ex-offenders like me greater hope of acceptance into society.