MILWAUKEE (WKOW) -- In the past year, the state of Wisconsin has renewed the call to give non-violent offenders a second chance.
Gov. Tony Evers created a pardon advisory board that issued its first pardons in October 2019, the first in Wisconsin in nine years.
As of mid-September, the board has pardoned 65 people.
Now, one Milwaukee man is finally achieving his dreams and will use his experience to help others on their journey to redemption.
For 17 years, Doyle Sprewer has tried to put his past behind him. A 2003 felony marijuana conviction has kept him from getting countless jobs over the years.
"It's hard to put in words sometimes because it's like it was a dream, like a kid dreaming, waiting on Christmas, but Christmas never came. And finally Christmas showed up." Sprewer said.
The state of Wisconsin officially pardoned Sprewer in November 2019 after he showed the board his impact on the community.
"I just kept my nose clean, just did the right thing and refocused my attention back to God," Sprewer said. "You have a choice to either make the wrong or right decisions. But I am here to be hope to encourage people just make the right decision."
Years ago when a pardon wasn't an option, Rev. John W. McVicker Sr. took a chance on Sprewer, giving him a job at Christ the King Baptist Church's school. That helped open doors for Sprewer to become a minister and continue helping people through community organizations.
"Since he's been back, he's done everything possible to make his way in society, to navigate mainstream society and to be released of the shadow of something that he did yesterday," McVicker said.
McVicker served on the state's pardon board during Gov. Jim Doyle's time in office and sees the value of a second chance.
"To be destigmatized is something that allows them to breathe a sigh of relief. And they don't have to always go through life kind of wondering if anybody sees this spot on me, this mark on my life's record, this blemish on my character, or question my character 20- 25 years later about something I did," he told 27 News.
A year after his pardon, Sprewer is starting a job he never would have gotten without it.
"When they called to say congratulations, everything is perfect, welcome aboard to the Department of Corrections, I almost like dropped to the ground almost, because it's unheard of," he told 27 News.
Sprewer's new job is the first success of a program that launched last fall to help pardoned people get on a new path.
"That was our first success story that we have been working for months on this, so it was very exciting," said Masood Akhtar.
Akhtar partnered with former DOC secretary Ed Wall to create a pardoned citizens assistance program. They're offering help with the job search and networking, along with interest-free loans if needed.
In the past year they've given out three loans and helped others navigate the path to a new job. Now, the team is looking at ways to help employers see how the pardoned have turned their lives around since conviction.
"All of them, in my opinion, are doing a great community work. And what we are trying to do is highlight that, to give the level of comfort to these people where these guys are living," Akhtar said.
A pardon doesn't completely clear an offender's record, but it does allow a person some freedoms they didn't have with a felony conviction. That includes the right to serve on a jury, hold public office and get certain professional licenses. A pardon does not result in an expungement.
Someone convicted of a felony can apply for a pardon if they finished their sentence at least five years ago and have not committed any new crimes.
Doyle Sprewer hopes the governor's new effort to return to pardons will be the next step in criminal justice reform.
"I want to use my platform to really help those people and also work with the legislators to see, what can we do to keep this train going?" he said.
Sprewer says he'd gotten messages and emails from people across the country asking how he was able to get his pardon.
He now has job options he never expected but always dreamed of, in law enforcement.
This week, he's starting a job as a probation and parole agent in Wisconsin, now on the other side of the effort to re-join the community after a conviction.
"The pardon, it opened doors that you would have never thought it would open. Last month, or last year, we wouldn't have had this conversation, but now we're here making history," he said.
Sprewer is looking forward to helping the recently-released find a new path.
"They may not have my story, but they can write their own story. I just want to be there as an example, that hope," he said. "Somebody's been through the same thing you've been through and I did all the right things, connecting with the right people, but I kept my faith through the whole process. And this is what happens when you just keep your faith and keep your trust in God. It just opens doors for you."