SPRINGFIELD, Mo (KOLR) – There is a common pattern with many ex-convicts that have hindered them from rejoining the world as working citizens.
“Let me ask you a question. So you get a guy out of prison. He doesn’t have an I.D. He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He doesn’t have a social security card. He can’t get a place because he’s a felon. It’s hard for him to find a job. He hasn’t been able to legally drive in 10 years. What’s his life look starting over?” says John Stroup.
Charles became a free man in 2019 when his prison sentence for a drug charged was overturned. Once he got out of jail, he struggled to get back to a normal life.
“My administration worked closely with members of both parties to sign the first step act into law,” says President Trump.
Charles recently spoke to a crowd on behalf of Americans For Prosperity.
“Well, the first thing most people run into is housing, because they have to have a place to stay. But when you’re being denied housing or an apartment based on you having that felony background. And those barriers shouldn’t exist, due to the fact the person has been released from prison,” said Charles.
Two men in the crowd that night explained why so many ex-convicts end back up in jail.
“I’d get out and not be able to find work. And I’d go back to doing what I know and that’s selling drugs to get on my feet. And that always leads back to me using,” says Joe Walters, a former ex-con who now attends Freeway Ministries.
“I did okay for a while. Then went straight back to drugs. And just in and out of jail, in and out of prison ever since then. And homeless I’d say for about 8 years in Branson,” says William Clendenin, also a former ex-con who now attends Freeway Ministries.
The first barrier many face when coming out of prison: no family to connect to, a home, transportation, or even a change of clothes.
One Springfield non-profit is hoping to change that for the ex-cons in the area.
Freeway Ministries, off Kearny in North Springfield, offers help to those who need to restart their lives.
“We believe people have a purpose. We’ve seen a lot of people’s lives transform that society has counted out. We have transitional homes for men and women to live in who are starting over. People that go to prison deserve another chance. They deserve a chance to be productive citizens,” says John Stroup, Director of Freeways Ministries.
The church goes the extra mile to changes their lives. They offer classes about handling money, relationships, and other life necessities. People are also given mentors and even drug tested by those in the program to break the criminal mentality.
“If I wouldn’t have had someone like John Stroup in my life who cared enough to sit out there an wait, I don’t know what would’ve happened if they let me out,” says Clendenin.
Another major barrier: getting a government I.D. without one you can’t get a job.
In 2018, the Missouri Department of Corrections issued nearly 1,500 state I.D.’s. They also offer birth certificates and social security cards, which you need to get a driver’s license. But they are challenges for inmates to get on before being released.
There’s a 4 month wait time to get a birth certificate. Plus if you lost your social security card, you can only get one replacement. And if you live out of state, the process takes even longer. Luckily Freeway Ministries helps with this too.
“Freeway helped me get a job once I got out. They took me to get my birth certificate back. Social security card. They paid for it,” says Walters.
Both Joe Walters and William Clendenin have since graduated from Freeway and now have jobs and are paying taxes.
Two local lawmakers tell KOLR10 what can be done politically to help ease the problem.
“It actually saves taxpayers dollars in the long run if we’re able to help folks get out, get established, get employment, housing, all of those things. They’re less likely to go back to whatever brought them into prison in the first place. I definitely support state funding for organizations that are already existing that we know are doing good work,” says Democrat State Representative Crystal Quade of Springfield.
And Republican State Representative Sonya Anderson says treatment courts are an important tool for recovery.
“They have been very successful and have low recidivism rates. They work and also besides being a cost saver to the state its also saving lives,” says Anderson.
Charles says this problem can’t be solved just through legislation. One and three Americans have a criminal record, so our communities need to change as well.
“But society has to do their part because the people out in society are the ones that employ you. The people in society are the ones that rent to you. And when you deny them those things, what you actually do is hinder that process and cause them to revert back to what they use to do. What we no longer want them to do. And that turns back to a crime-ridden life,” says Charles.
Freeway receives no state funding and operates entirely on its own dime. Director John Stroup says the church is not a homeless shelter. Rather, a place to learn, grow and change a life. Stroup’s takeaway message is simply this: People can change.
For more on Freeway Ministries click here.