MILWAUKEE (WKOW) — A new group is coming together to help support people who have recently been pardoned.
Gov. Tony Evers pardoned 12 people this year for minor offenses, the first in nearly a decade in Wisconsin.
One of them is Rev. Doyle Sprewer, who struggled to find a job after he served time for a conviction on possession with intent to deliver marijuana in 2003.
“You can make one fatal mistake and it just changes your whole entire life,” Sprewer told 27 News.
The man who had regularly volunteered and worked with kids found himself unable to do that after prison. He struggled to find someone who would hire him.
“They see felony and it just covers everything, no matter what type of volunteer work I did, when they see that felony… so imagine going through that for years,” he said.
Sprewer filed for a pardon as soon as he could and waited. His church in Milwaukee ended up taking a chance on him and giving him a job in its school, opening the door for him to become a minister.
And Rev. Sprewer is now finally getting his name cleared with a governor’s pardon.
“It’s like a dream, like you’ve been in a nightmare for a long time,” he said. “You’re getting prosecuted over and over again every time you do job interviews, so just to get that from the governor, and now people see you in a different light.”
Now, he’s working with community leaders who have developed a program to help the recently pardoned build a better future.
“It’s a very new initiative but has been very powerful in terms of what we just learned, and how we are addressing it and how we are producing some results,” said Masood Akhtar, who came up with the idea behind the Pardoned Citizens Assistance Program.
Akhtar got together with Ed Wall, former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, to come up with a plan.
“What we want to do is try and help them get to a new life, get to the life they want to be in,” Wall told 27 News.
They’ve spoken with a number of the recently pardoned people in Wisconsin, partnering now with Sprewer and Rev. Dr. Mwangi Vasser, who was included in the governor’s first round of pardons.
The group is celebrating its first success on Tuesday, after Gov. Evers’ office took action to address one of Vasser’s needs. He wants to join the military, but the pardon didn’t make it clear that he was eligible, needing specific language to allow him to have a gun.
The group will continue meeting with those who’ve been pardoned, to find out their specific needs and find solutions. There will be interest-free loans available if needed and help with job counseling, and making connections for education.
The advocates also plan to work with lawmakers to come up with ideas to improve the criminal justice system.
“If we do nothing more than shelf people and warehouse them for years, and then we kick them back out on the street, what do we expect them to do?” Wall said. “We have to work on recidivism. And if we don’t do that with creating jobs and creating skills, making sure they have their education, we’re going to fail.”
Akhtar, who founded We are Many United Against Hate, says the program will also help teach communities how to forgive and welcome recent offenders back into their lives to help them get back on their feet.
“We’re going to talk about the good things that these guys are willing to do and giving something back to the community,” Akhtar told 27 News.
Sprewer hopes his story also inspires others to take the steps and go through the difficult pardon process if they’re eligible. He says he’s already gotten messages from people all over the state asking for help.
“I try to share my story with children, adults, whoever want to listen, because I don’t want anybody to go through what I went through,” he said.
Now, he hopes to become a firefighter in Milwaukee, which was not an option before with his felony conviction.
If you’re interested in helping support this program, or if you know someone who needs assistance with pardons, you can contact the group members:
-Masood Akhtar, firstname.lastname@example.org
-Ed Wall, email@example.com
-Rev. Dr. Mwangi Vasser, firstname.lastname@example.org
-Rev. Doyle Sprewer, email@example.com