RICHMOND, Va. -- A man who was pardoned by former Governor Ralph Northam (D - Virginia) is determined to add value to his community.
Harvey Williams said he changed his life for the better while incarcerated. However, finding a job after being released hasn't been easy.
Williams served over 23 years in prison after he was arrested for robbing a bank.
He said he was remorseful for the decisions we made while he was trying to feed a drug addiction that he suffered from at the time.
He said volunteers who visited the prison helped him turn around his life.
Now, Williams said he wanted to return the kindness, but he needed the community to give him a second chance.
"I have no income and I'm not asking to just be given anything. I'm looking for an opportunity to work at something that I can do," Williams said. "I was like a fish out of water after 23 years of being incarcerated."
Before re-entering society, Williams said his life was transformed thanks to volunteers from the Kairos Prison Ministry.
"I was a skeptic at first but when I went into the room with the men from Kairos, the energy that filled the room was literally overcoming. It overcame me and I saw it overcome other men. So the gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful in prison and out here," Williams said.
His goal has been to find a well-paying job and be a productive citizen, but his employment search has been a roller coaster ride.
"I made it all the way to the security checks where they told me, to change my email address and everything. And the man told me he was going to give me the job, just waiting for my security clearance to come back. And they went back 25 years to when I first got my bank robbery charge and that's why I didn't get the job," Williams said.
The letdowns have been tough, but he's not giving up. Harvey said he's hopeful because there are some organizations that haven't given up on him.
"My stay here at this hotel is being paid by a nonprofit, OAR. It's the reason I'm able to live here. Otherwise, I would be on the street so the Lord is just making provisions," he said.
Sara Dimick is the executive director at Opportunity Alliance and Reentry of Richmond (OAR). The non-profit is located in Richmond's Scott's Addition neighborhood and works to provide resources for people who are incarcerated or who have been recently incarcerated.
"It's my hope not just for Harvey, but for anyone, that we as a community give them chances. We say well okay, they're out, we want them to do better [and] give them an opportunity to do better. If we keep shutting doors, if we keep saying, ‘do it yourself, good luck,’ but if there is somebody there cheering them on, walking them through saying, 'Hey, I know this person, they might give you a shot, that's going to help.'"
Dimick said that Williams' struggle wasn't an isolated situation. Many people she worked with have the same difficulties.
"We can look around and see hiring signs all around, but do those places hire folks that have come home from incarceration?" Dimick said. "It depends right, if they do, do they pay well? Do they pay living wages? Minimum wage jobs we know are not going to help folks thrive. And so, they are often working three or four jobs just to live, and when they've come home from incarceration and they get told no over and over again, then it's often this ‘what do I do now, it'd be easier to just go back.’ The goal is to break that cycle of recidivism."
Williams said he planned to use his testimony to save others from making costly mistakes.
"I know what it's like to be on the street, nowhere to live, sleeping in bus stops," he said.
He created a program with others while he was behind bars.
"This program right here is for the people who have been in trouble, but also those that are at risk of getting in trouble. My reformed life is something that I want them to see... that because you started out that way, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. So I would like to offer to them a better way," Williams said.
Harvey's keeping the faith that people in the community will recognize the change in him and give him the opportunity he's been praying for.
"I promised the Lord that if he gave me a platform to speak for him, then I would. So I pray this moment does touch somebody's heart somewhere," Williams said.
OAR is always looking for donations, especially hygiene products.
The organization is also hoping to connect with more employers and landlords.
You can learn more about the organization here.
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