Second chances: ‘I pretty much thought my life was over’
Jesse Jones tells his story of second chances and hope when all seems lost.
BRAINERD — “Unbelievable” is the word Jesse Jones would use to describe where his life is today.
“People make mistakes,” he said, “and it’s important that we just come alongside of people and say, ‘You’re not defined by the mistakes that you’ve made, and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel if you’re willing to change.’”
And change he did.
Coming from a rough background in Chicago, with serious drug charges to his name, Jones didn’t think he’d ever be able to pull himself back up.
“I pretty much thought that my life was over,” he said. “Like, this is what I’m going to be — a criminal for the rest of my life.”
But now he marches to a much different tune.
Employed at Diversion Solutions in Brainerd, Jones helps those with revoked driver’s licenses get their citations and everything taken care of so they can be legally reinstated.
The company also offers programs dealing with pre-charge diversion, giving offenders alternatives to jail time or criminal citations; expungement, allowing those with old charges to get a clean slate; and other legal issues.
The most humbling part about it is to say, ‘I need help. I’m struggling.'
Like Jones, many of his co-workers are also graduates of Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge.
“This is our second chance, and as we are living our life, we’re also able to help other people get their life in order,” he said.
Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge offers both long-term and outpatient services for those recovering from addiction. Jones spent time at the facilities in Rochester and Brainerd — the first step in the long journey to getting his life back on track.
“Almost two years of molding and changing and going through a bunch of feelings and learning how to live life right,” he said. “It doesn’t come overnight.”
Jones became acquainted with the owners of Minneapolis-based Diversion Solutions during his recovery journey and soon had a job and the option to relocate to Brainerd, where he already knew and loved the recovery community.
A key part of that community was Brian Andrews, now the executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice who also worked as a recovery coach at Teen Challenge during Jones’ time there. Jones now volunteers with the restorative justice nonprofit, working with first-time juvenile offenders to repair the harm they did to their community.
The two also crossed paths at Heritage Church in Baxter, where Andrews is a deacon and where Jones is now interning while working toward his ministerial credentials.
“Most people from my past life, when I say I’m going to school to be a credentialed minister, they laugh,” Jones said. “But I think that’s just second chances.”
Once he finishes his courses through the Assemblies of God Church, Jones plans to continue spreading hope and love to those around him and could see himself working with an organization like Lighthouse Beginnings, a nonprofit born out of those at Diversion Solutions.
Lighthouse Beginnings works with those reintegrating into society after incarceration or treatment programs and provides resources for things like housing, job training and mental health services.
“I hope that I can be a spiritual mentor toward these guys,” Jones said, “and just come alongside of them and say, ‘Hey, what does this look like? What is your relationship like with your kids? What is your relationship like with your mom and dad? What type of feelings are you going through?’”
Jones wants those who are struggling to know help is available and change is possible. Kids in the restorative justice program don’t have to throw their whole lives away after one mistake, and adults, who are stuck in a bad cycle of decisions, can still come out on the other side.
The first step, though, can be the hardest.
“The most humbling part about it is to say, ‘I need help. I’m struggling,’ and to receive help because it’s a pride thing, right? Like, you don’t want to say, ‘I need help,’ but then at the same time, you don’t want to receive it because you’re too prideful. So just reach out,” Jones said. “And then I also want to just say that it can be done.”
Jones said people should look to places like Teen Challenge, Diversion Solutions, Lakes Area Restorative Justice or local churches to take that first step.
And while it might not happen overnight, it can still happen because, according to Jones: “If I can do it, you can do it.”
April is Second Chance Month
April is known as Second Chance Month, both nationally and in Minnesota, reaffirming the importance of helping those with criminal backgrounds re-enter society and have a second chance at a better life after paying their debts.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at
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