AURORA, Colo. — You could say Shani Jones believes in second chances. Or maybe she just believes in people.
"Most all of them are just as committed as the most committed people you’ll know," she said. "(They're) trying to get their lives back."
She's talking about people like Lucas Sales.
"I thought she was amazing," Lucas recalled of his first meeting with Jones.
The pair met at Aurora's Second Chance Center. The nonprofit helps people who were incarcerated re-enter society, connecting them with employment, housing, food and mentoring resources to help break the cycle of incarceration.
"If you can disconnect yourself from the community that got you in trouble and change your setting and surroundings, I think that helps a lot for people not going back," said Kim Kendrick, volunteer coordinator for Second Chance Center.
Jones is a volunteer. Sales was right out of prison after serving 31 years for a murder he committed when he was just 17.
"I never thought that being in prison for so long — that I would even be around people like that ever again, more or less people who were open-minded and see you as a person and were able to work with you and see past anything that might not be able to be seen past by other people," Sales said.
According to the Second Chance Center, about 50% of people released from prison go back within three years of their release. The Second Chance Center maintains a recidivism rate under 9% for people involved in its programs.
Just nine months out and Sales now works at the Second Chance Center as a care manager. The nonprofit has helped him get clothes, food and housing. Perhaps more important, Jones has reminded Sales his sentence is not a life sentence after all.
"That helps a lot to meet people like that who are open-minded and that understand that people do make mistakes," Sales said.
Most of the time, society hands people who are coming out of prison their own personal consequences, Jones said.
"They have the criminal justice consequence and then whatever (society wants to) give them," she said. "To say they can’t come into our business, or they can’t live in our backyard, or they can’t move into our housing unit... to feel as if they can be here and just be OK the way they are and accepted fully and not have any barriers to that, not judgment on that — I think is the most rewarding thing."
Molly Hendrickson anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. She also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Molly on Facebook here and Twitter here. To nominate a hero in your life, click here.