By Debra J. Saunders Las Vegas Review-Journal August 25, 2020
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a pardon for Jon D. Ponder, a former bank robber who founded Hope for Prisoners, a Las Vegas organization that helps criminal offenders re-enter the workforce, family life and society.
Joining Ponder in the White House to receive the pardon were Richard Beasley, the former FBI agent who arrested Ponder for bank robbery in Pahrump in 2004, and Ponder’s wife, Jamie.
Before signing the pardon, Trump recalled meeting Ponder and Beasley as the two men appeared together at a Rose Garden celebration for the National Day of Prayer in 2018. Trump lauded the two friends, saying, “Your story reminds us that prayer changes hearts and transforms lives. It uplifts the soul, inspires action and unites us all as one nation, under God. So important.”
In a video taped inside the White House before the RNC convened its second night with the theme “Land of Opportunity,” Trump pledged to give all Americans, including former inmates, “the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream.”
It was a moment that checked off several boxes central to the Trump campaign agenda, as Trump and his guests appealed to people of faith, the Black community, law enforcement and Nevadans.
Ponder, a three-time felon, recalled how he determined that when he got out of prison he would turn his life around. “We live in a nation of second chances,” Ponder said as he thanked the Metropolitan Police Department members who volunteered their time to help Hope for Prisoners participants.
“My hope for America is that law enforcement and people in the communities across the country can come together and realize that as Americans we have more in common than we have differences,” Ponder said.
Ponder’s attorney, Kristina Wildeveld, praised the presidential pardon as rare.
“A pardon is not something that happens often, and a presidential pardon is even more rare,” she said in a statement texted to a reporter. “As Jon Ponder’s attorney and the one who petitioned, presented, advocated and secured the pardon for Jon, I wish I was able to be present as this is a tremendous career highlight.”
Long road to pardon
When they first met 15 years ago, Beasley recalled that Ponder was “angry, scared, frustrated and anxious about his future.” On the way to prison, he stopped at a convenience store and bought Ponder a coffee and a doughnut.
Beasley, now president of the Global Intelligence Network, also thanked Trump for his “strong support for law enforcement” before he noted that in certain parts of America, law enforcement officers feel second-guessed and unsupported for just doing their jobs.
Trump spoke at a HOPE for Prisoners graduation ceremony for ex-offenders in February, the last time he was in Las Vegas. At the event, Trump mused about granting Ponder, who has served his federal sentence, a “full pardon” that would recognize Ponder’s transformation and restore his rights.
Alice Marie Johnson, a federal drug offender whose sentence Trump commuted in 2018, will speak at the convention Thursday night ahead of Trump’s acceptance speech.
The evening began with a prayer by another Las Vegan, Pastor Norma Urrabazo of the International Church of Las Vegas, who spoke from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Hurting in Wisconsin
Urrabazo opened with a prayer that recognized “hurting communities in Wisconsin tonight” and offered “healing and comfort to Jacob Blake and his family,” a reference to a Black man shot in the back as Kenosha police arrested him, and “protection over for those who put their lives in harm’s way to bring safety and security in our streets.”
It was a sign that the Trump team intended to handle the shooting cautiously as Attorney General William Barr has said the Department of Justice would investigate the confrontation, which was caught on video.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden released a statement on the Blake shooting Monday morning that said, “And this morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force. This calls for an immediate, full and transparent investigation, and the officers must be held accountable.”
Urrabazo, an immigrant from Mexico, attended a roundtable event with Hispanic pastors at the White House, where she told the president, “I am an immigrant from Mexico and also the daughter of an immigrant from Mexico. And I just wanted you to know that you have not only my support, but you have the support of our community.”
This month, Trump named her husband, Pastor Pasqual Urrabazo, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity.
Nevada board pardons Hope for Prisoners founder
By Colton Lochhead Las Vegas Review-Journal March 4, 2020
CARSON CITY — Jon Ponder, an ex-convict who now spends his days helping former inmates transition back into civilian life, was granted clemency by the state Pardons Board on Wednesday for past battery convictions.
The pardon, which was approved unanimously by the board members present, clears Ponder’s record of the domestic battery crimes he was convicted of in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Ponder could not hold back the tears as he listened to his brother Darryl, who was the victim of one of the battery convictions, testify about how Ponder had turned his life around and “brought the family together.”
“It was so surreal,” Ponder said after the hearing.
The state pardon comes on the heels of President Donald Trump last month teasing a “full pardon” for Ponder, which would clear his record of separate federal crimes that sent Ponder to prison.
Ponder’s attorney, Kristina Wildeveld, said the Nevada pardon was the first step in restoring his full rights, noting that he still has the federal robbery conviction and crimes dating to his time in New York and that they are working toward resolving those convictions.
Growing up in New York, Ponder fell into gangs and found himself arrested at the age of 16 for armed robbery. He spent the next 20 years in and out of custody for crimes from assault to other robberies. The last was in 2004, when he was arrested after a drug-and-alcohol-fueled armed bank robbery that sent him to federal prison for the last time.
It was during that federal prison sentence that Ponder found faith, and a purpose.
A year and a half after being released, Ponder founded Hope for Prisoners in 2009. The nonprofit organization partners with law enforcement agencies across the state, including the Metropolitan Police Department and the Nevada Department of Corrections, and has helped more than 2,000 former Nevada inmates re-enter civilian life.
Wildeveld asked the board, which is made up of Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and the seven Supreme Court justices, for a full, unconditional pardon, in large part because Ponder wants to do normal parent activities with his daughters. Ford and Chief Justice Kristina Pickering were absent for the vote.
“Because of his status as an ex-felon, he can’t go into his daughters’ schools. He cannot accompany his daughters on his daughters’ school field trips. He cannot be fully involved in his children’s lives,” Wildeveld said.
She also said that because of his status, Ponder’s wife can’t own a firearm. Wildeveld noted that none of Ponder’s convictions, including the bank robberies, involved a gun.
Sisolak stood against restoring Ponder’s right to bear arms, however. But because of the rules of the board, that meant a pardon without those rights restored was the only option the board could vote on.
Justice Lidia Stiglich said she disagreed with the governor’s position and wanted to vote against it because she believed that Ponder should have his rights restored unconditionally, but she said she would vote yes because she didn’t want there to be any disagreement about Ponder deserving the pardon.
“That was what you did. But who you are is who you are today,” Stiglich said. “And I think you’ve distinguished yourself both in your own rehabilitation and your service to your community in trying to make that right.”