I have come to know Hector Guadalupe through our daughter, first as a cause she believed in and now as part of our family. Hector has an extraordinary story, coming from the rough streets of Brooklyn and the world of gangs and drugs to incarceration in his twenties, to trying to create an adult life after that. It is an extraordinary story of his overcoming that world, but also a remarkable program he has created to help others coming from similar stories.
It is a familiar story, all too familiar. The “war on drugs” is, it turns out, like so many wars that begin with apparent good intentions. It ended up incarcerating millions of young people, predominantly young men, and disproportionately the poor and minorities. The laws tended to punish more severely those who did not have the wherewithal to afford and negotiate the system. When people go to prison, sadly, they lose everything. And when they return, it is all too common that they lose hope.
I have worked with many people who have gone to jail or prison through the years—both church members (in every church I have served, I might add), and members of the community. The stigma of felony records strips away voting rights, employability, and social connection. So how then do we propose that people lead a productive life that is good for society?
If you have ever walked through the criminal justice system yourself or with someone, you already know what a boulder it lays on the shoulders of a person who made a wrong choice. Hector’s story, though, is not a rehearsal of those obstacles. He created an amazing organization, Second U, to train the formerly incarcerated to return to productive citizenship and life. This weekend, CNN is running his story as a part of its CNN Heroes series. Hector trains young men and women to become, like he did, personal trainers, have their own businesses and reestablish themselves in normal life.
You may view the story here. I encourage you to watch it. It’s short, but inspiring.
Years ago, I went to the prison here in Alabama where inmates are held just before release to meet with and help a man who had been writing me from prison to ask my help in returning to life. He’d served a one-year sentence and would soon receive a bus ticket and a small sum of cash as he left. For the next months and years, I, and several of our church members, served as guides and encouragers as he put his life back together. There were ups, downs, and stumbles along the way, but he did it. At that time, I remember thinking, “If every church in Alabama helped an inmate return to life, what would that do?” I still think about that. A lot. The people in prison are, first, people, from families, made in the image of God.
Of late I have worked along with the organization Faith in Action Alabama to advocate for a less onerous process of helping former inmates restore their voting rights. This made it to the House as SB 118. Sen. Jabo Waggoner was helpful to us in this process. If you can’t get a job, can’t vote, can’t rebuild your life, and give hack after you’ve paid your debt, how will you stay away from darker options?
I hope you will watch Hector’s story and think about the 25,000 + human beings currently held in our state system designed for 12,000 and ask yourself, “What can we do better for us all”” Yes, there are people whose crimes merit being removed from society, but many of these can be returned to life. The government and the prison system cannot do it all. It takes the former prisoner with a will to restore themselves and make amends, a community willing to welcome them back and a faith community that keeps sounding its own message, “There is a second chance.”
If you are interested in knowing more about SecondU foundation or contributing, go to