In a moving and dramatic high point of Tuesday night’s Republican National Convention, President Trump issued a full pardon for convicted bank robber Jon Ponder.
Ponder shared an amazing and inspirational life journey.
He grew up in New York, raised by his mother in a fatherless family. He became involved in gangs, abusing drugs and alcohol. At age 12 he had his first run-in with the law. By the time he reached his mid-30’s he had multiple arrests and incarcerations. A bank robbery left him facing up to 23 years in federal prison.
Jon had reached rock bottom when he cried out to God that if he would reach down from heaven and help him, he would change his life and give it over completely to the Lord.
Jon heard the Lord speak powerfully to his heart:
“My son, I honored what you asked me to do – never forget the promise you made to me.”
At sentencing the judge said “I don’t know why I am doing this” as he sentenced him to only five years in prison.
Jon was true to his word.
After serving his sentence, Jon started a program known as Hope for Prisoners to help those released from prison find employment and adjust to their newfound freedom. Hope for Prisoners features an 18-month program that offers job training, mentorship and counseling. So far the program has served more than 3,100 men and women.
Father Figure and Mentor
FBI special agent Richard Beasley played a pivotal role in cooperating with God’s grace and helping Jon fulfill his vocation. Agent Beasley arrested Jon for the bank robbery, but treated Jon with kindness and respect despite his actions.
Prisons are filled with young men who suffered from absent or abusive fathers. When Jon was released from prison, Agent Beasley provided fatherly guidance and friendship; the two men have grown to be best of friends over time.
In my work as co-founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, a ministry for healing after abortion, I had the opportunity to learn more about another amazing prison ministry in a maximum security prison in Florida, and to visit the facility and interview inmates.
I learned that many of the men had similar father wounds, but also was surprised to find that close to 90% of the men had abortions in their history. I discovered that abortion experience contributed to their descent into drug addiction and criminal behavior. The men shared how healing the abortion losses blessed their lives and their relationship with God, with fellow inmates, and with loved ones.
President Trump met Jon Ponder in 2018 at a White House event honoring both Ponder and Beasley. Trump later attended a Hope for Prisoners graduation ceremony, where he personally greeted each graduate and stayed well beyond his scheduled time to speak at length with the men.
“Jon, we honor your devotion to showing returning citizens that they are not forgotten,” Trump said Tuesday in a pre-recorded video. “I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream.”
Trump went on to create a dramatic and emotional high point of the evening: In the presence of Jon, Beasley and Jon’s wife Jamie, the president singed a presidential pardon for Jon’s past crimes.
Ponder was visibly moved.
“My hope for America is that formerly incarcerated people will be afforded the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that we live in a nation of second chances,” he said. “My hope for America is that law enforcement and people in communities across our country can come together and realize that as Americans we have more in common than we have differences.”
What a refreshing moment of light and hope to counter the darkness and fear of those who sowing violence and division between people of different colors and backgrounds, and between citizens and the law enforcement officers protecting their communities.