Donald Trump pardoned activist Jon Ponder during the Republican National Convention’s second night on Tuesday, an evening which was designed to promote the president’s campaign theme highlighting the United States as the “land of opportunity.”
Ponder was arrested in 2005 for an armed bank robbery that landed him in federal prison. Since his release, the Nevada native started working with other prisoners to help them re-enter society with an organization he founded, Hope for Prisoners.
“You’ve done incredible work,” Trump, 74, told Ponder in a pre-recorded pardoning ceremony that aired during the second night of the RNC. “Every place in this country is proud of you.”
Trump, 74, has used criminal justice reform as one of his main campaign pitches to Black voters ahead of the 2020 election between himself and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. CBS News’ nationwide Battleground Tracker poll fielded just before last week’s Democratic Convention showed that 90 percent of Black likely voters nationwide plan to cast their ballot for Biden.
Ponder said in a speech alongside Trump and FBI agent Richard Beasley — who arrested him in 2004 — that he is “filled with hope” and said he was proud to have “been given a second chance.”
“My hope for America is that formerly incarcerated people will be afforded the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that we live in a nation of second chances,” Ponder, 54, said.
The White House said Tuesday night that Ponder is “a source of inspiration for former inmates who desire to rebuild their lives when they leave prison.”
Ponder founded Hope for Prisoners in 2010 — a year after he was released from prison, according to The New York Times.
The activist was initially arrested in 2005 for a pair of bank robberies in which he slipped notes to tellers saying that he had a gun, the Times reports.
Ponder was pardoned of the criminal charges at the state level earlier this year, according to the Las Vegas Journal Review.
“Who you are is who you are today,” Judge Lidia Stiglich told Ponder upon pardoning him, the Journal Review reported then. “And I think you’ve distinguished yourself both in your own rehabilitation and your service to your community in trying to make that right.”
Ponder’s organization provides an 18-month program that includes job training, as well as counseling, and mentorships.
Trump first met Ponder in 2018 during the White House’s ceremonies for the National Day of Prayer, according to The Hill. The president and Ponder crossed paths again earlier this year, while Trump was delivering remarks at the organization’s graduation ceremony in February.
In the middle of his speech, Trump pointed Ponder out in the crowd and saying that the White House was considering giving him a pardon, according to The Nevada Independent.
Ponder said later that he had “no words” and was in shock that he was being considered for a presidential pardon.