The miraculous unfolding of Ponder’s new life began at sentencing. The judge gave Ponder only five years in prison. Ponder used his time in prison wisely by envisioning a purpose for himself upon release and following through. That action culminated in being pardoned by then-President Donald Trump. “A pardon is not something that happens often, and a presidential pardon is even more rare,” said Ponder’s attorney Kristina Wildeveld.
Ponder’s story began in New York where he grew up in the streets. As a child, Ponder started down the path toward prison and was first arrested at age 12. Gangs and crime, all fueled by addiction to alcohol and drugs, with multiple periods of imprisonment, were the unsurprising outcome of that lifestyle.
By the time Ponder was convicted of his third felony, he felt hopeless. After his final arrest, and expecting to serve a lengthy prison term, Ponder instead turned to God. While praying, he promised that if given another chance, he would transform his life and dedicate it to making the world a better place, no matter how much time he had to spend behind bars.
When Ponder received the unanticipated shorter sentence from a judge who could not explain why he felt inspired to impose such a sentence, Ponder got to work. He committed every day to learning and growing as a man by educating himself, while always preparing for the day when he would return home. About the time his sentence was to expire, inspiration struck.
Concerned about reintegrating into society—where to find the necessary support and how to overcome all of the inevitable barriers—Ponder envisioned the future. One day, he would create an organization with the inspired purpose of helping others overcome the challenges Ponder then faced, an organization that inspires optimism and hope for a better future for the formerly incarcerated.
Ponder’s vision became Hope for Prisoners. HFP, a nonprofit in Las Vegas, Nevada, which provides empowerment to former prisoners and their families. The foundation of the program is development of character and strategic leadership. The program focuses on mental, physical and spiritual growth while providing access to intensive leadership training, financial fitness for life, professional development and technology training. The program includes the #IAMHOPE core values: Integrity, Accountability, Motivation, Honor, Optimism, Perseverance and Excellence.
Ponder says, “Our mission is to create a society of people who have come home from prison, who have not reoffended and who are living levels of life that most people only dream of — when we accomplish this, the people we have served can turn around and provide help to the next person facing the challenges of reentry.”
HFP has assisted nearly 3,500 clients since 2010 with only a 6 percent rate of recidivism. Ponder’s commitment impacts the entire community. The program has brought together community leaders, business owners and members of law enforcement. Local police volunteer as mentors. Beasley remains one of Ponder’s biggest supporters.
Ponder thanked the Metropolitan Police Department members who volunteer stating, “We live in a nation of second chances. My hope for America is that law enforcement and people in the communities across the country can come together and realize that as Americans we have more in common than we have differences.”
Beasley and Ponder met Trump at a 2018 National Day of Prayer event. Trump noted, “Your story reminds us that prayer changes hearts and transforms lives.” Trump granted Ponder a pardon on August 25, 2020. Ponder stayed true to his promise and has created hope for prisoners everywhere.
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