Pathway to Freedom proponents joined the nonprofit organization March 1 to mark its 10-year anniversary with a celebratory dinner at Osage House in Cave Springs. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee provided keynote remarks, and Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin was the guest speaker. The celebration helped the group raise more than $98,000.
Leaders say the group is a Christ-centered holistic program that "seeks to address the transformation of prisoners' lives through an 18-month pre-release residential program through a contractual agreement with the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC). The program continues for an additional 12 months of mentoring and support once the inmate has returned to the community."
The program serves 200 participants at a time, bringing in 35 to 40 new participants each quarter. According to a study released by the Department of Corrections in April 2021 that tracked people released in 2016, 47.5 percent of all inmates in Arkansas who were released returned to prison within three years of their release date.
Pathway to Freedom has seen 1,560 participants in the 10 years since its founding, with a recidivisim rate within three years of release of just 22.79 percent.
Scott McLean, founder and executive director, tells me: "PTF's approach not only enables prisoners to become contributing members of society, but helps reduce the detrimental effects of crime upon the families and children of offenders. With the involvement of the community and the generosity of private donations, PTF is reducing the high rate of criminal recidivism by changing behavior and changing lives."
Mario Torres, a program graduate, shared with event guests that being in the program while serving a sentence was "the most pivotal time in my life."
"I believe it's important to have programs like this in the Department of Corrections because it emphasizes hope," he says. "When you're in the darkness, it's hard to believe you're ever going to make it out, and it's easy to start believing the worst about yourself. But with hope, it gives you the will to keep pushing, faith to believe in yourself and to believe you can create a better future."
Pathway to Freedom also gave Torres an "unmatched environment" where he could focus on himself and a community dedicated to change, where people were dedicated to learning about themselves and figuring out "why we were the way we were."
"I'm not saying other programs don't work, but I don't believe they work like this," Torres continued. "Numbers don't lie. Tomorrow I have three years to the day of my release, and I stand before you as a testament of the life-changing power that is within Pathway to Freedom."
Torres graduated in June 2021 with a trade school diploma and says he already had a job before graduation.
"My daughter was born, we purchased our first home, I purchased a vehicle of my own for the first time ever," he says. "All these things I never thought would happen for me, so quickly happened in a span of 18 months."
Anniversary celebration sponsors included Tyson Foods, Debra and Ray Hobbs, Fellowship Bible Church NWA, Rod Bradley, David Burton, Janelle and Barry Lunney Jr., Ron Mooney, Ron Stumbaugh, Jill Bryant, Bryan Lewis, Matt Hartness, Charles George, Amy and Brian Wood, Becky and Barry Lunney, Tim Pruitt, Brad Scott, Association of Arkansas Counties, Arkansas Sheriffs Association and Lowe's.
For more event photos -- nwadg.com/photos/society.
Columnist Carin Schoppmeyer can be reached by email at [email protected].