It’s no secret that the road to reentry for ex-felons can be a difficult one. The challenges of finding steady employment, support from family and friends, and even basic acceptance can be overwhelming. But there is hope! Through hard work and determination, many ex-felons have managed to turn their lives around and achieve success in spite of their past mistakes. In this blog post, we’ll explore some inspiring success stories of ex-felons who are now living meaningful and fulfilling lives.
1. Daniel Manville
Daniel Manville is an inspiring example of how ex-criminals can turn their life around and make something positive out of a negative situation. He was incarcerated from 1973 to 1976 for selling drugs, but rather than letting his imprisonment define him, he used it as an opportunity. In prison, he focused on taking classes and earning two undergraduate degrees. He taught himself about legal resources, earning a reputation among other inmates as a “jailhouse lawyer” and helping others through the difficult legal system.
Forty-four years later, Manville has achieved remarkable success. He is now a bar-certified attorney and law professor who trains law students to litigate on behalf of inmates who are treated unfairly by the criminal justice system. His work has not gone unnoticed; he is the author of the Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual, which provides prisoners with an indispensable guide to understanding their rights under the law and protecting them.
Manville’s story serves as an example of what is possible when society gives people who have been in prison the chance to rebuild their lives after being released. It exemplifies that we should never give up hope no matter what obstacles we face in life.
2. Jeff Henderson
Jeff Henderson is an inspirational American chef, author and public speaker who rose to fame after serving nearly a decade in prison for cocaine. Born in San Diego, California, Jeff was arrested at the age of 24 by the San Diego Drug Task Force and charged with intent to distribute illegal narcotics. He was then sentenced to 19 and a half years in prison on federal drug trafficking charges.
In 1997, Jeff left prison determined to make something of his life. Despite difficulty finding a job, he persevered and was eventually hired as a dishwasher before becoming a line cook. He moved up through the ranks of Los Angeles restaurants including the Ritz-Carlton, Hotel Bel-Air, and L’Ermitage Hotel before making history in 2001 when he became the first African-American Chef de Cuisine at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Over the next five years, he worked his way up various prestigious restaurants until 2006 when he became an executive chef at Café Bellagio.
Today, Jeff is a well-known public speaker and bestselling author whose story of resilience has inspired many people around the world. His book Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras offers insight into his journey from prisoner to successful chef and sought-after public speaker. He currently lives with his family in Las Vegas where he continues to inspire others through his work as chef and motivational speaker.
3. Frank William Abagnale
Frank Abagnale was born in New York City on February 2, 1948, to parents of Italian descent. At the tender age of 15, he began committing fraud by opening bank accounts under false names and writing out checks from overdrawn accounts. He also used other methods to con money from banks like placing deposit slips with his account number in the pile of unused ones.
Abagnale’s criminal activities landed him in prison in 1974 and he was sentenced to Federal Correction Institution in Petersburg, Virginia. However, he was granted parole after agreeing to assist the authorities with capturing other con artists.
After his release, he found it difficult to hold a steady job due to his past record and had to devise an alternate solution. He approached a bank offering them his services as a security consultant by showing them fraud techniques used by forgers – this marked the start of his new career as a security consultant and led him to found Abagnale & Associates which advises corporations on fraud prevention measures.
In 1980, Abagnale wrote an autobiography titled Catch Me If You Can that brought into light these alleged victimless frauds which inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie adaptation featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale himself. Today, Abagnale is still consulted by FBI agents and lectures at the Academy about fraud prevention methods which are followed by more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies and financial institutions.
4. Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart was born on August 3, 1941, in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is known for her bestselling books on cooking, entertaining, and housekeeping, and two successful syndicated television programs: “Martha Stewart Living” (1993-2004) and “Martha” (2005-2012). As the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, she achieved success through various business ventures such as publishing, broadcasting, merchandising, and e-commerce.
In 2004, however, Stewart was convicted of felony charges related to the ImClone stock trading case; she served five months in federal prison and was released in March 2005. Despite this obstacle, Stewart began a comeback campaign, resulting in her company’s return to profitability in 2006. In 2011, she rejoined the board of directors for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and became chairwoman again two years later. Stewart overcame her criminal record to become even more successful than before.
5. Frederick Hutson
Frederick Hutson is the head and creator of Pigeonly, a service that helps people simplify finding and communicating with an incarcerated relative. He began his professional journey at the age of 19 when he served in the US Air Force, working on jet engines at Nellis Air Force Base as an electrician. He was honorably discharged in 2005 after the base began downsizing and eventually turned his business efforts to sending marijuana through parcel companies, which netted him approximately $500,000 annually.
In 2007 Frederick Hutson was arrested by the DEA, and he served a 51-month sentence beginning that same year at only 23 years old. While in prison, he encountered first-hand the difficulty American inmates have with communicating with their families outside of the institution, sparking his idea to deliver communication for imprisoned individuals.
After being released from prison, Frederick Hutson founded Pigeonly. He sought out to make phone calls for those behind bars more affordable by cutting their cost by 80% through his company’s technology, allowing people to send inmate photos, greeting cards, and more right from their cell phones, tablets, or computers. By 2015 Pigeonly had sent approximately one million pieces of mail and facilitated around 8 million minutes of telephone calls.
6. Coss Marte
Coss Marte is a successful businessman and an inspiration to many. He started his career in the world of crime at an early age, selling marijuana as a pre-teen. At 23, Coss was imprisoned for leading a multi-million-dollar drug trafficking organization.
By this time, Coss had ballooned up to 230 pounds, at which point a prison doctor informed him that he either had to make a change or risk dying behind bars. Determined to turn his life around, Coss began working out using simple movements and bodyweight exercises crafted from within the confines of his 9ft by 6ft jail cell. Astonishingly, these exercises allowed him to lose over 70 pounds in six months.
Upon being released after serving ten years, Coss decided to capitalize on what he learned while incarcerated by launching his own business, Coss Athletics. With the help of Defy Ventures, he developed an exercise program based on his experience in prison – Conbody. The program assists both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in getting fit and earning a living by teaching others how to exercise. His program has been wildly successful, with over 70,000 clients thus far. On top of that, Conbody has employed more than 50 formerly incarcerated individuals as fitness trainers with an impressive 0% recidivism rate.
Through hard work and determination despite all odds stacked against him, Coss Marte has gone from being an inmate behind bars to becoming a successful businessman who inspires others with his story every day.
7. Shon Hopwood
Shon Hopwood’s story is an inspiring example that redemption is possible no matter how dire one’s circumstances are. He is an American appellate lawyer and law professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Shon Hopwood transformed remarkably from a criminal to a successful lawyer, starting in 1998 when he pleaded guilty to robbing several banks in Nebraska. He was sentenced to 12 years and three months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
During his time in prison, Hopwood took advantage of the opportunity afforded him by dedicating himself to studying the law. He became a proficient United States Supreme Court practitioner, earning him the title of “jailhouse lawyer”.
In 2012, his memoir co-written with Dennis Burke, Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption, was published to critical acclaim. The book details his life as a jailhouse lawyer and his relationship with his wife Ann Marie Hopwood, which sustained him during eight years of imprisonment.
In 2015, after being released from prison, he was licensed as a lawyer in Washington. And in 2017, Hopwood became a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where he hired 2020 graduate Tiffany Trump as his research assistant.
8. Reginald Dwayne Betts
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, lawyer, and inspirational figure. At sixteen, he committed an armed carjacking, was charged as an adult, and consequently spent more than eight years in prison. During his incarceration, Betts started reading and writing poetry which helped him turn his life around. After his release, Betts earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College and eventually a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School, where he is currently working on his Ph.D. in law.
Betts has achieved remarkable success over the years and is the author of Felon, a New York Times Notable Book, and founder of Freedom Reads. This organization gives incarcerated people access to books. Also, he has won countless literary and journalistic awards, such as the NAACP Award for non-fiction, the National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category, and the American Book Award, etc. In 2012, President Barack Obama announced that Betts had been named a Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention member – an incredible recognition for someone who went from prison to becoming a lawyer.
9. Kevin Mitnick
Kevin David Mitnick is a famous hacker. At the young age of 16, he gained unauthorized access to a computer network in 1979. He was enrolled at Los Angeles Pierce College and USC during this time.
In 1995, Mitnick was arrested for various computer and communications-related crimes. He spent five years in prison for these offenses. Upon his release in 2000, he was initially forbidden to use any communications technology other than a landline telephone and prohibited from profiting from films or books based on his criminal activity for seven years.
In December 2001, after the complete restoration of his rights, he founded his own company called Mitnick Security Consulting LLC, which provides computer security consultancy services. He is also part owner of KnowBe4, a provider of an integrated platform for security awareness training. Additionally, he wrote several books, including the New York Times Bestselling Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker, which details his thrilling story of intrigue and suspense, and unbelievable escapes.
10. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. is an American actor and producer widely known for his role as the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist Tony Stark aka Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Born in 1965 in New York City, he first gained recognition for his roles in films such as Less Than Zero and Chaplin. Despite these successes, Downey had a troubled past marked by substance abuse and several arrests. In 1999, he was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of drugs possession and attempted possession of a controlled substance.
After serving time in jail, Downey managed to get his life back and return to Hollywood with a vengeance. He starred in numerous successful films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac and Tropic Thunder before auditioning for Iron Man in 2008. His performance earned him widespread acclaim and won him multiple awards including an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
His portrayal of Iron Man has also made him one of the most recognizable figures within the Marvel Universe, with fans all over the world celebrating his success story from criminal to superhero icon. Up to now, there have been six films that Robert Downey Jr played with worldwide box office earnings of over $1 billion, of which the highest is Avengers: Endgame (2019), which grossed more than $2.7 billion.
11. Tim Allen
Tim Allen is an American comedian, actor, and voice actor who rose to fame for his role as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor on the 1990s sitcom Home Improvement. Additionally, he is widely known for voicing Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story series.
Allen had a difficult past which included drug trafficking and driving under the influence of alcohol. In 1978, he was arrested in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for possession of 650g of cocaine and was sentenced to three years in federal prison. After serving two years and four months of this sentence at Sandstone Federal Correctional Institution in Minnesota, Allen was released in 1981 and returned to stand-up comedy. But he was again arrested for driving under the influence in 1998. Even so, he has continued to overcome this obstacle.
Tim Allen has since become one of the most successful actors in Hollywood with a net worth of over $110 million dollars in 2022. Despite his dark past, Allen has managed to make a successful return to stardom proving that even those who have committed serious crimes can find redemption.
12. Christian Slater
Christian Slater is an American actor and producer who has achieved success in both film and television. He is best known for his roles in films such as Heathers, True Romance, Pump Up the Volume, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Throughout his career, Slater has had several legal issues. In 1989, he was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to ten days in jail. Four years later, he was arrested when he tried to board a commercial plane with a gun in his luggage. In 1997, Slater was convicted of punching his girlfriend, Michelle Jonas, and assaulting a police officer while under the influence of heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. Then in 2005, he was arrested in Manhattan after allegedly groping a woman on the street.
Despite these legal troubles, Slater’s box office success cannot be denied. His role as Will Scarlett in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves grossed $390 million worldwide and made him one of the major A-list stars of the 1990s. Additionally, he has provided voice acting work for many animated films such as Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Archer (2014-present), and most recently Inside Job (2021-2022). With an impressive list of credits spanning several decades, there is no doubt that Christian Slater is one successful actor.
13. Jeremy Meeks
Jeremy Meeks, also known as the “hot felon”, is a convicted felon who has experienced an incredible journey of luck and fame. Born in 1984 in Stockton, California, Meeks had a difficult childhood which led him to join a gang at the age of 18. In 2002, he was charged with robbery and violently assaulting a 16-year-old boy, for which he was sentenced to serve two years in prison. However, he ended up spending nine years in jail due to several infractions during his sentence.
In 2014, Meeks was arrested for gun possession and resisting arrest, for which he was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. The same day his mugshots were posted on the Stockton Police Department’s Facebook page, and within 24 hours from when they were posted, they had acquired more than 15,000 likes and 3,700 comments from women who found him attractive. This was the day his luck began. He became famous after only one night.
After being released from prison in 2016, he signed a modeling contract with photographer Jim Jordan, and since then he has been working with famous brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Fashion Concept GmbH. His net worth is estimated at $5 million by 2022.
No matter how difficult the road to reentry may seem, there is always hope for success. Ex-felons can find strength and encouragement in the inspiring stories of those who have overcome their past mistakes and achieved true success. With hard work and dedication, you too can create a meaningful and fulfilling life for yourself. Don’t give up; stay focused on your goals and remember that you can do anything.
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