Aspire to Win: Giving former prison inmates a second chance

For most former prison inmates who have served at least 10 consecutive years behind bars, it's difficult to re-enter society.

But some in the Houston area are experiencing a second chance, like Pete Gibson.

"I've been blessed," says Gibson. "I got a good job, a roof over my head, you know, so hey ... you know I'm doing great."

The last 5 years of Pete's life have been the start of a new chapter.

He's a hardworking man with a new wife, and new memories that together they've framed since he was released from prison after serving 31 years.

"My father passed, my uncle passed and I wasn't able to go to the funeral so yeah and it was a hard pill to swallow," Gibson says.

He explained how by the age of 18 he got mixed up with the wrong crowd and spent most of his time in and out of jail.

"It was a robbery at a convenience store and I was…I was let's just say I was under the influence because that was one of my bad days. Drugs and trying to be Mr. Big. Trying to be somebody I wasn't."

"I can recall him going into solitary on one of my visits because of me missing him and he knew that we were not supposed to have any kind of contact and he came and gave me a hug anyway," remembers his sister Arteerean Jefferson.

She says it was shortly after that from the outside looking in, she knew her big brother had found himself while locked up.

"He had been in and out of the penitentiary and this time he really got it and for a loved one to see that," Jefferson said breaking off.

"I thank god and Aspire to Win because it helped me back to my roots," says Gibson. "My family."

It also led him to Rosey Ruiz.

"I've been incarcerated several times, drug offenses. I use to sell crack," says Ruiz. "The lord knows there was a lot for them forgive."

But with her parents by her side, and constant words of encouragement, she says, she transitioned into the Founder and Director of Aspire to Win. It's  a non-profit designed to help ex-offenders re-enter society.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, in 2014 there were a total of almost 73 ,000 inmates released. Harris County received close to 14,000 of them. That's not including federal inmates. Most of them, Ruiz says, have been put away for so long the world seems rather foreign.

"It's a hard sell because it's not a warm and fuzzy population. People don't too much care about men who spent half their life in prison for aggravated robbery and murder convictions."

Ruiz knows from experience about the stigma that's attached to a criminal record. It's difficult to get a job, mentors and get proper training to readjust. But that's her niche and passion and in this private office in Third Ward.

"This program means so much to me. These guys really matter and they are good people who made some bad choices many many years ago."

The 9-12 month program is voluntary, and caters to men who have served at least 10 conservative years behind bars.

She'll take referrals from parole officers, but for the most part former inmates find her.

Once in the program, they are mentored and work in small groups on leadership and community service.

"We inspire. We hope we instill confidence. It brings family closer together let alone it nurtures you. They teach you how to do everything you need to do, if you can't find a job we'll help you find a job"

Pete's going on 4 years at Phoenecia and loving every minute. Whipping up his speciality, and when he's not here you'll find him serving time at home embracing his second chance at life thanks to this postive program that was built with the determination to aspire to win.