“Should I Never Have Been Given a Second Chance?”
How a second chance made all the difference for one former gang member
As in years past, President Trump has proclaimed the month of April as Second Chance Month. The White House press release stated, “We encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life and emphasize our belief in second chances for all who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.”
Second Chance month reminds us of what is possible when we take responsibility for our lives and refuse to be defined by past mistakes and circumstances; it celebrates the strength it takes for someone to reinvent themselves in the face of legal barriers working against them.
One of the best examples of a life that was most certainly headed toward prison or an early death is that of Deputy Inspector Corey Pegues (Ret.), former crack cocaine dealer turned decorated NYPD officer and Law Enforcement Action Partnership speaker.
In his award-winning memoir, Once a Cop, The Street, the Law, Two Worlds, One Man, Pegues explains how he got involved in street life at age 13, selling drugs and running with a gang. When his son was born a few years later, he knew it was his duty to be there for his child; he didn’t want to end up another casualty of the illegal drug trade. Realizing one of the few ways to escape the streets was to join the Army, Pegues enlisted. Before he could leave, he found himself in front of a judge on an assault charge. The judge took his enlistment into consideration and allowed him to be released, free of the crime. He was given a second chance.
Pegues served his country for more than three years on active duty and continued serving in the New York State National Guard for more than fourteen years. When he returned from active duty, he was hired by the NYPD and climbed the ranks quickly, finally retiring as Deputy Inspector, Commanding Officer, of the 67th Precinct, one of the most violent in NYC.
Pegues had become part of the criminal justice system, but not in the way anyone would have predicted. His ability to see what his life could be and to muster the strength to make the change is a story of redemption and inspiration. In one very moving interview Corey asks, “Should I never have been given a second chance?”
Pegues is retired now after 21 years with the NYPD. He has joined LEAP to continue the fight to fix the criminal justice system: speaking with media, testifying, and writing on issues including drug policy, racial disparities, prevention programs, community policing, and the collateral consequences of arrest and incarceration.
Pegues was able to turn his life around before ever entering the prison system, but many are not so lucky. Those with criminal records have significant hurdles ahead of them, including barriers to housing, education, and employment. The road is even harder for those incarcerated for many years and without robust re-entry programs that give them the proper training and resources to successfully re-integrate, many will go back to criminal activity. That’s not good for the person, and it’s not good for their community.
Second Chance Month draws attention to problems in the criminal justice system that need to be addressed with practical solutions and proven alternatives. Once a person has paid their debt to society, they should be able to leave the system with dignity and the ability to recognize their own potential — believing that they truly have been afforded a second chance.
~The Law Enforcement Action Partnership Staff