Commentary: The power of getting or not getting a second chance

On March 28, 2023, Brian Andrews, Charly Niesen, Mathew Merten along with supporters Zanna Gray and Doris Krueger proposed the Crow Wing County Board name April as Second Chance Month.

People in the Crow Wing County Judicial Center.
Doris Krueger, left, Mathew Merten, Brian Andrews, Charly Niesen and Zanna Gray attend the March 28, 2023, Crow Wing County Board meeting in the historic courthouse in Brainerd.

On March 28, as executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, I and volunteers/presenters Charly Niesen, Mathew Merten along with supporters Zanna Gray and Doris Krueger proposed the Crow Wing County Board make a proclamation to name April as Second Chance Month.

This team shared the personal struggles that come with a criminal background that includes over 48,000 documented barriers and social stigmas. The goal of Second Chance Month is to educate, inform and ultimately transform the perspective of how people view those with a criminal background.

What may start as a single bad decision can ultimately turn into a life of crime. Once a person has a criminal background — 1 in 3 working age adults — trying to get a job becomes near impossible, trying to find a place to rent is also a major barrier. I applied to over 30 different rental properties before getting my first second chance in the form of a one-year lease.

There is potential for life transformation when second chances are given and many times it is that first second chance that gives people the hope that inspires many to continue to try and become productive members of society. Zanna Gray, office manager at Lakes Area Restorative Justice, said God rescued her from a dark place and drug court was an answered prayer that helped her get and stay clean from drugs, meet her fiancé and ultimately get her greatest second chance, getting to be a mother again, which to her is the greatest gift of her second chance.

Crow Wing County Board proclaims April Second Chance Month and hears from three people who benefited from a second chance.

Many times we hear about the impact of a crime and today let's take it a step further, the impact of being charged with a crime. The community as a whole suffers and is negatively impacted when a crime occurs and then are impacted again and again the cycle that starts with a crime, someone is charged with a crime, the barriers, social stigmas and lack of hope can lead to further choices that result in crime.


After I received my first second chance, it filled me with hope, and over the course of the next several years I received other second chances, including being elected as a deacon at Heritage Church, being asked to come into several of the local schools as a volunteer to share my story.

The lessons I learned are in hope of our community’s youth being spared from the struggles that come with a criminal background, addiction and lack of hope. I like to use the line, “Restoring hope and cultivating community” when asked what my role entails as executive director for Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project. The opportunity to hold youth accountable, discover their worth and value and create opportunities for them to feel connected to this community is the greatest second chance I have been given.

One of the best parts of my second chance story is how today I get to work directly with many of the same law enforcement officers and criminal justice folks that I had personal experience with in my past.

Looking at the impact of giving or not giving second chances we need to take into consideration the question — “is this area just someplace that you live, or is this your home?” If this is your home then pound your stake into the ground and let's make that declaration together that we will work collectively to address the bad, celebrate the wins and be part of someone’s second chance story and ultimately a part of creating and sustaining Crow Wing County’s vision of being Minnesota’s favorite place!

I want to end with a favorite quote of Charly Niesen: “Sometimes second chances work better than the first because we are not starting over, we are starting from experience.”


Crow Wing Energized is a grassroots movement dedicated to improving the health and wellness of Crow Wing County residents through a focus on Healthy Choices, Mental Fitness, Workplace Wellness, and Community Connections. For more information about free resources, volunteering, classes and events, go to
The Dispatch partnered with Crow Wing Energized for a regular column to help motivate health and wellness in the community.

What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads