‘Second Chance Walk’ calls for more opportunities for formerly incarcerated people

Published: Apr. 25, 2021 at 10:55 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - On Sunday, more than 60 people walked nearly two miles, at times in the rain, to advocate for formerly incarcerated people to be given second chances once they have completed their sentences.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Marion held the walk, which spanned from Greene Square Park in downtown Cedar Rapids to the city’s NewBo District and African American Museum of Iowa before returning downtown. The church runs a prison ministry program with inmates at Anamosa State Penitentiary.

“To be frank, they’re not the majority. It’s hard. Guys coming out of prison, they come back, they get in the same circles, and they start this cycle of reincarceration,” Pastor Paul Hennings of St. Mark’s said.

Along the route, the group stopped to hear about the experiences of formerly incarcerated people, who described struggling to find employment and housing after they left prison.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Prison Policy Initiative estimated in a 2018 report that the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people in the US is almost five times higher than the nation’s general population.

“I was locked up the first time at 17 years old,” said Trent Tuel of Cedar Rapids, who shared his story during the walk. “It was pretty much a three-year cycle. Every three years since I’ve been 17, I’ve been in trouble with the law, incarcerated. I’ve been through the halfway house, I don’t know how many times.”

Between those stints, as he tried to get back on his feet, Tuel said getting a job was nearly impossible.

“It was horrible. I’d have to take the lowest-paying jobs, anything anyone would give me, so I never had any satisfaction with jobs,” he said.

But about three years ago, Tuel connected with Hope CDA, an organization that helps men facing employment barriers, like criminal records.

“They hired me from the halfway house, and I always needed a little structure out of the halfway house that I never had,” he said.

Hennings said stories like Tuel’s are ones of hope and promise.

“A lot of times, the laws are against them,” he said. “They don’t really have a second chance, and as Christians, we believe in second chances.”

That’s why he said it was important for people on Sunday’s walk to hear those stories, from community members to local leaders.

“If you can’t effectively start a life anymore because of something you did possibly on the worst day of your life, at peak frustration, when you felt like you didn’t have an out, that’s punishment,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who participated in the walk.

That second chance turned Tuel’s life around.

He’s now married, 18 months clean, and a supervisor at his job, working to help other men break the cycle that he knows too well.

“Without that second chance, we revert back to the old because we’re broken when we don’t get that second chance,” he said.

Now, he feels like he is getting back to being whole.

“I am, very much so,” Tuel said. “That spot in my heart is filled now, you know, where I’ve never felt that way.”

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