Good afternoon. My name is Jeremy Watson and I am a proud HOPE for Prisoners alumni. Thank you all for being here today to share in the celebration of the newest graduating class. I am here today to share my story and hope to inspire some of you to continue on the path that has brought you here today.
I have spent nearly 70% of my life incarcerated. My life of crime started at the young age of 11 which was how old I was the first time I was arrested. My early years were spent in the streets of LA and while most kids that age are excited to start the 6th grade, I was drinking, drugging and already actively involved in the gang lifestyle. My parents moved to Las Vegas when I was a teenager and my choices went from bad to worse. I was in America’s playground and I was here to play. It wasn’t long before I graduated from serving time in Juvie to serving time in adult prison.
After many years of the vicious cycle of crime, incarceration, temporary freedom and back around again, I found myself in Ely State Prison. The consequences of my decisions had once again landed me in that 6×8 box with nothing but my own thoughts and reflection. I never knew what I wanted to be when I was growing up, but at that time I knew that I wanted and was ready to try something different.
While I was at Ely, my mom sent me some information about the HOPE for Prisoners program. I read about Jon Ponder and was captivated by his story. This wasn’t a program developed by someone who went to school and studied criminal behavior. This program was founded by a man who knew exactly what I was going through. That caught my attention and I wrote a letter to HOPE. I received a response, was accepted to the program and when I was released, HOPE for Prisoners was my first stop.
I learned so much during the workshop. HOPE taught me life skills, interview skills and how to overcome adversity. Out of the lifestyle that began in my youth, I had developed a strong disdain for law enforcement. I chose the life that I chose and they were the enemy. Oddly enough, my mother was a police officer with LVMPD. HOPE for Prisoners showed me a different perspective, a different way of viewing law enforcement. As my anger and frustration disappeared, a respect and admiration for law enforcement began to grow in me.
I was hired on my graduation day and began work immediately. Had I not learned what I learned even in the short time I had been with HOPE, I would not have landed a job on that day. HOPE for Prisoners assigned me a mentor who is here with us today. Doug Brown. He has been a father figure, a friend and mentor. For nearly 9 years now, Doug, along with Jon has been a constant support and source of stability for me. Doug has taught me so much and has helped to keep me in my sobriety. He has opened my eyes and been an example to me – teaching me coping skills and how to deal with life’s circumstances. I can’t thank him enough for what he has done for me and my family.
I won’t tell you that it has been an easy road. I have made mistakes along the way, some big ones with big consequences. My early success and sobriety had me thinking that I could still associate with old friends and visit old places. This thinking caused me to lose my footing more than once. I am not ashamed to say that I am still learning, still growing. Sobriety at one point sounded boring, but I will tell you that complete sobriety equals complete freedom. To this day, I still go to meetings. I need to stay connected and my connection keeps me armed with the tools that I have to continue to implement in my daily life.
Today, I have a successful career as a union iron worker. I look around the city where I used to wreck lives and can see what I have helped to build. I have been privileged to help build the Raiders Stadium, the Sphere and the Convention Center. I am reconnected in strong healthy relationships with my family. I am engaged to be married and have a 4-month old baby whose life I get to be a part of because I am free. I missed out on so much of my own life and the lives of my other children and family members and I am aware on a daily basis of the gift of my freedom and will never do anything to jeopardize it ever again. I volunteer my time and look for ways to give back and help those in need. I don’t have everything in the world, but I have everything that I need. I have a life that many people wish for and I am forever grateful for Jon and the HOPE for Prisoners family. If you stay connected to this program, and follow what you are asked to do, you will experience a life that you may have only dreamt about at this point. Jon, I want to thank you for never giving up on me, always being there and for everything that you have built in HOPE for Prisoners. There are so many of us that would not be here today if it wasn’t for you and your heart to serve. In addition to my gratitude for Jon and Doug I also want to say thank you to Tina Fennel with Foundation for Recovery for always being supportive of me and my journey and giving me the opportunity to help others in recovery.
My advice to those of you graduating here today is to swallow your pride and do not be afraid to ask for help. There is strength in numbers and surrounding yourself with like-minded people who genuinely want you to succeed is critical. I also cannot tell you how important it is to change your people, places and things. You cannot stay on the right path and continue to associate with the same people you did before, in the same places you did before and around the same things you did before. Be brave enough to start this journey with a clean slate. Pride and ego and the idea that you can handle being around your old lifestyle will be the start of your downfall.
I am proud of who I am today. I am a wonderful father, grandfather, son and friend to the people I choose to have in my life today.
Congratulations to each one of you and I wish you all of the success that you and your loved ones deserve.