Hope for Prisoners CEO leaves those hoping for pardon without his vote


by Jagada Chambers

LAS VEGAS, NV – With the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (NDOC) new report revealing 254 positive COVID-19 tests in State facilities among residents and staff at facilities including assisted living, childcare, correctional, behavioral inpatient and skilled nursing, reports from inside corrections seem eerily low.

Of the 254 positive COVID-19 cases is state facilities, including 14 deaths, the Department of Corrections is reporting six cases, with only two of the reported positive tests being inmate cases (one in Ely and one in Casa Grande). If the inside reports are accurate, it may be the most impressive containment of the global deadly virus.

Or, NDOC is hiding a reality that will undoubtedly come to light.

Regardless, people are trying to get out.

During this pandemic, the advocates, allies and invested partners of those incarcerated and formally incarcerated have a heightened responsibility to be the voices for family and community members behind the wall. Systems actors have shown the level of empathy that is in place for communities of Color, once thrust into a pandemic it would be unrealistic to expect different.

This is what makes the recent actions of Hope for Prisoners founder and CEO Jon Ponder disheartening.

Ponder landed a spot on the law enforcement-heavy Nevada Sentencing Commission in accord with the Nevada Revised Statues (NRS 176.0133). The Commission held a lengthy 5-plus hour meeting centered on the unprecedented realities created through the COVID-19 Pandemic in mid-April. During the meeting, as a representative of an organization that works with offenders as well as all those hoping to return to society, Ponders’ investment was minimal.

From forfeiting opportunities to address the panel, to baffling inquiries on the process of inmates entering into prison, Hope for Prisoners seemed poised to provide as minimal hope possible for the thousands of men and women incarcerated through this pandemic.

Let’s just say, a voting commission member recalled. He was uninterested, to say the least.

Ponders most damning action during the lengthy crisis meeting was when voting commission members tallied their thoughts on the potential for freedom for a certain criteria of inmates in custody. The power of the States Pardons Board surfaced and the commission decided it would be beneficial to request the Governor to set an emergency meeting with the Pardons Board.

The Nevada Board of Pardons would potentially look into cases of individuals that it has already completed investigations upon and assess the possibilities of expediting these cases. With the voting power to provide a sliver of hope for those a pardon away from freedom, Ponder gave a glimpse of where his allegiance lies.

Ponder cast his vote to leave the criteria of inmates hopeless. No, he effortlessly mouthed into his personal computer. Of the 18 votes, ten commission members voted for the emergency meeting, versus Ponder and his seven law enforcement teammates voting against.

The Nevada DOC, Sheriffs, Parole & Probation all voted, ‘No,’ as well as Mr. Ponder.

During this pandemic, to hold such a powerful vote, a vote that today can mean life or death for someone in custody, Ponders’ vote spoke volumes. A man that last month was awarded a partial-pardon, could effectively vote to leave others without that same hope, tells the REAL story.

Communities of Color, please believe every word.

A photo of Jon Ponder, CEO of Hope for Prisoners, posted on his Twitter account, at a Nevada prison facility where everyone is wearing masks except for the only present incarcerated person.

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