NLR Program Helps Convicts Break Reoffending Cycle

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A program in central Arkansas is helping convicts break the cycle of reoffending.

At “Compassion in Action” Reentry, offenders with backgrounds in everything from drugs to alcohol to violent crimes learn basic life skills they were never taught growing up, like responsibility, discipline and accountability.

The 12-week program is not easy. Only four have graduated since it began in January 2015. 

The founder and executive director, Michael Johninson, knows all too well what these ex-convicts are going through. He fell into drugs and alcohol as an adult. 
 
“I quit my job as an assistant sales manager to go to prison,” said Johninson. “Throughout my journey, I came to realize God had something better for me.”
 
Johninson is now teaching his students to break the cycle. 
 
“I’m an eight-time loser, gangbanger,” said Lawrence Walker, the program’s first graduate. “I’ve been through life shot, stabbed, cut, just living that life at the bottom.”
 
Walker spent half of his life behind bars.
 
“I’ve been going back and forth since I was 16,” he said. “I never gave myself a chance.”
 
At 45 years old, Walker is ready to give himself a second shot after someone finally took a chance on him.
 
“He [Johninson] just told me you can do better than that,” Walker said. “You need to start coming to church.” 
 
“I turned him down from my program three times because I didn’t think he was ready,” Johninson said. 
 
“Then I said, ‘Well, I’m ready. Change is a must,'” Walker said. 
 
Lawrence signed his commitment to the faith-based reentry program starting 12 weeks of rigorous work with Johninson. 
 
“It’s not an easy program. It wasn’t designed that way,” Johninson said. “It takes a person who actually is looking for a true second chance.”
 
“We’ve got that old mentality, ‘This is all I know,'” Walker said. “No, that’s all you choose to know.”
 
As promised, Walker’s choice to know more did not come easy, but he persevered, making him the first graduate of the program with a new outlook on life. 
 
“I use it every day out there in the free world, every day,” Walker said. 
 
Instead of an eight-time loser, Walker now can describe himself as a student, father and employee.
 
“My motto is making dreams come true,” Johninson said. 
 
Walker said he is living his dream thanks to Johninson. 
 
“In ADC, I was working free to get free,” he said. “Now I’m getting paid for what I’ve learned.”
 
Walker is making $15 an hour laying sprinklers. His next step with the program will be earning his GED at Arkansas Baptist College. 
 
Walker is working toward a degree as a counselor so he can reach young men before they fall into a cycle like he did. In the meantime, he will be able to mentor people like himself through Compassion in Action. 

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