AUSTIN, Texas — Several organizations held an event Saturday in Austin to provide information and resources to people who've been previously incarcerated.
The "From Prison to Power" event was hosted by the Statewide Leadership Council, which is a group made up of formerly incarcerated advocates who are now working for meaningful change.
Chivas Watson is one of the founding members of the Statewide Leadership Council and he said they host events like this one across Texas.
"We want you to overcome your prison experience and speak about your inner power. We want you to represent your inner power. We want you to find power through the conversations with others, through the experiences of others," Watson said.
Events like the one hosted Saturday are more than just helping people find a career and their worth. Watson said it's about passing legislation to bring about change in the justice system.
"We really hope that by more 'From Prison to Power' events, that we can establish core agendas throughout the state regarding clean slate and second-chance initiatives so that individuals throughout the state can be impacted when we get bills passed," Watson said.
For people like Sean Oliver and Jennifer Toon, difficult life lessons shaped them into the people they are today.
"I thought in life I'd learn a system. I'll take a shortcut. My shortcuts led me to serve over 27 years in prison," Oliver said.
Oliver is now part of Jail to Jobs, which helped him find his path and now he helps others find theirs.
"When I reentered society, I came with that mindset and Jail to Jobs gave me an opportunity not only to share that, but they also helped me to continue to learn and grow," Oliver said.
Toon is one of the co-founders of the Justice Impacted Women's Alliance. Through that, she uses her lived experience to inspire other women.
"It's the power of story that motivates change. So a lot of times, especially the women I was incarcerated with, they feel a lot of guilt, they feel a lot of shame, and they don't necessarily want to own their story because of the shame that comes with it," Toon said.
For people who've been incarcerated, one of the biggest barriers faced when they're free is stigma and they want to change that.
"We all make mistakes. It's just the severity of our mistakes sometimes lead us down the criminal legal path, but we're all still human," Toon said.
"We want the same future that you have. We want the same things for our children. So don't just give us a chance, give us a chance to exceed and not just make it," Oliver said.
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