Republican Convention 2020

Trump Pardons Inmate-Turned-Activist Jon Ponder and Praises 'Second Chances'

"I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream," Trump said.


President Donald Trump pardoned Jon Ponder, a formerly incarcerated man who now runs a nonprofit to help others coming out of prison, in a video recorded Tuesday.

The video played at the Republican National Convention (RNC) Tuesday night during a program that focused on Trump's record on criminal justice reform

"I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream," Trump said.

Ponder is the founder of Hope for Prisoners, a Nevada nonprofit that offers support services and training to formerly incarcerated people. Trump met with Ponder at the 2018 National Day of Prayer at the White House, and the president was a guest speaker at a Hope for Prisoners graduation ceremony in February. 

Trump's pardon wipes away a federal bank robbery conviction from Ponder's record.

"Today, praise God, I am filled with hope," Ponder said. "A proud American citizen who has been given a second chance. My transformation began in a prison cell, while I found myself a three-time convicted felon facing yet another sentence. I gave my life to Jesus."

The pardon was the latest in a string of high-profile commutations and pardons by Trump. Alice Johnson, a former federal inmate who was serving life in prison before Trump commuted her sentence in 2018, is also expected to speak at the RNC.

But while criminal justice advocates have applauded pardons and commutations issued in deserving cases like those, there have been criticisms that the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney, the regular office that handles clemency applications, has been sidelined. The Washington Post found the vast majority of the pardons and commutations under Trump have gone to cases that caught his attention on TV or were brought to him personally by advocates or celebrities.

At a July 13 White House press briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked specifically about Ponder's possible pardon and the neglect of regular clemency applications.

"It's absolutely not the case that only those who are politically connected get a pardon. This president is the president of criminal justice reform," McEnany responded. "This president did the FIRST STEP Act. This president has fought for those who are given unduly harsh sentences more than any Democrat who like to talk about it but never actually did it."

Trump's tendency to pardon his cronies has led to some calls to restrict the executive's pardon powers, but that would be a terrible mistake. There are thousands more Jon Ponders and Alice Johnsons in the federal prison system, many of them passed over by the Obama administration's clemency initiative. Precious few of them have the sort of connections to get their case to the president's ears. If Trump wants to show he will fight for their second chances—and isn't just putting on a show or helping his pals—he can and should prove it.