Jesse Wiese knows that second chances don't come easy.
At 21, he robbed a bank at gunpoint and was later sentenced to eight years in prison. And after he was released in 2006, he tried to put his life together and become a lawyer.
But, he said, the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners did not let that happen.
"In reality, we believe people can change, but we don't think that, even if you do change, that you could ever do something like this," Wiese said. "And that's very frustrating."
Wiese has funneled that frustrationinto a drive to help people who are in his situation.
Wiese is the director of the Second Prison Project. The campaign - spearheaded by the Prison Fellowship, considered the world's largest outreach program to prisoners and ex-prisoners - aims to help anyone who has been through the prison system to land a real opportunity at a second chance. Wiese hopes they can dodge what he calls the "second prison," which is an idea that ex-convicts are barred from fulfilling their potential because of legal and social barriers.
This message will be discussed May 6-7, when the Prison Fellowship holds a Breaking the Chain conference at Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel in Colorado Springs. On May 8, the Second Prison Project will hold its first Second Chances 5K run/walk at America the Beautiful Park.
"What the Second Prison Project and the Prison Fellowship are trying to do is rebrand the scarlet letter," said Wiese, who recently stopped in Colorado Springs to promote his cause. "One of the things we're trying to do is galvanize that momentum, that belief in second chances. If you're into second chances, we want you to come out and show your support."
The organization works with 280 prisons across the country, though Wiese did not have exact numbers for Colorado. They aim to help prisoners and their families rehabilitate through career and food-assistance programs, for example.
"At the end of the day, 95 percent of the people who are incarcerated are going to get out," he said. "And so, at the end of the day, what are we going to say to those people about what they can do? We can have all the sentencing reform we want and have all the prison reform we want, but we still have to reform our culture. And our culture is there, and we're trying to galvanize that under a singular brand and say, 'Yep, we do believe in second chances. We are about providing opportunities to someone who wants to work and someone who wants to achieve the American dream.' "