A character turns into a story

In January, I went to an elementary school in Roanoke to cover a routine event for my beat (the police).

The city’s department was rolling out the second iteration of its program that offers to send non-violent drug offenders to a life college and mentor them toward sound citizenship instead of charging them with crimes.

photo from The Roanoke Times, by Stephanie Klein-Davis

In the middle of this event, when the eligible offenders are brought before a panel of officials and community leaders, the man explaining the life college went seemingly off script and started explaining that he had been to prison for more than seven years. The redemption theme has always been an attractive story for me, so after the event I asked the man, Sam Coles, if he would sit down and tell me more.

He didn’t really seem to think his story was all that extraordinary, but he wanted to talk to me in hopes I could shed light on the problems ex-offenders face while trying to secure steady employment and keep themselves on the right side of the law.

And his story was a case study in how to do just that. He has taken his experiences and turned them into a job, where he helps convicted felons re-entering society find work.

His story and the problems he helps combat were the subject of my Sunday centerpiece for The Roanoke Times this past weekend.

Take a read: Second Chances