This story is about Cornell Belt. He graduated from the HOPE for Prisoners program 2 and a half years ago. He is grateful for the opportunity to briefly share his story and hopefully inspire each person with hope and a desire to put in the hard work that it takes to succeed.
Cornell was born premature July 18th 1967 at Southern Memorial Hospital, which is now known as U.M.C. Doctors thought he would not make it!! Although his parents were right here in Las Vegas, he was raised by his grandmother and her husband who passed away in 1967 when he was 8 years old.
As far as he can remember, this is when his behavior started to change…..petty theft from 7-11 stores, taking small change out of his grandmother’s purse. At a very young age, Cornell saw a man coming out of bank America counting cash; he rode his bike right past him and snatched the money out of his hand. His first experience with the criminal justice system was a lengthy stay at the Spring Mountain Youth Camp. After his release, Cornell’s grandmother moved to West Las Vegas and remarried. He started his freshman year at Clark High School and it was there that he was introduced to marijuana and it’s fair to say, gang activity as well. At the age of 15 he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, a .38 that he had stolen from his grandmother and was sent to Elko for 6 months. It was at that point that his life would spiral out of control for the next 30 years. Cornell went in and out of the Nevada Department of Corrections for years at a time, paroled and sent back, paroled and sent back when finally he was labeled a Habitual Criminal and served his last term of 14 years. He remembers a rookie Corrections Officer from his first trip to prison who was now an Associate Warden at the same prison and he remembers thinking, what am I doing with my life? When Cornell was 40 years old, his grandmother passed away and he was left to care for himself with no job experience, no skills, and a crack cocaine habit that was consuming his life. After serving nearly 30 years in prison, he was completely lost and did not know where to turn. In 2015, while sitting in the City of Las Vegas jail on a pipe charge, someone told him about a place called HOPE for Prisoners. Truly desiring to live a different life but not sure of where to start, Cornell went down to HOPE and enrolled in their program. HOPE for Prisoners did just what their name says, it gave him hope. Jon Ponder was a man who could empathize with his mental condition, who could speak to him in a dialogue that I could relate to because he had lived it. He was now associated with the police, politicians and he was the CEO of this program that was helping people.
This program gave Cornell the Hope he needed to begin the process of change; so he could make the transition into society. Today, he is proud to say that he has been clean and sober for over two years. Cornell is married, raising children, and is a supervisor in a restaurant at a 5-star hotel. He has never held a job for this long and it feels great! Cornell loves supporting himself and supporting his family and has truly made the transformation from someone who was a taker to someone who desires to give back to people. His advice to new graduates today is to have the same patience and tolerance with doing right as you did when you were doing wrong. It takes the same energy to fail as it does to succeed. The amount that you receive from the HOPE for Prisoners program will be exactly the amount that you put in to it…… It is not an easy journey, but wants to let his life be a lesson to everyone that change is truly possible. For anyone.