Trump highlights criminal justice reform with pardon at GOP convention
Jon Ponder founded Hope for Prisoners, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit that offers mentorship and job training to recently incarcerated men and women.
President Trump put the spotlight on his criminal justice record at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday by showing a video of him pardoning a former inmate who started a reentry program for former convicts.
The full pardon for Jon Ponder aired during a segment in the first minutes of the RNC’s second night.
“Jon’s life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption,” Trump said in a video first released by the White House on Tuesday. The president appeared with Ponder, his wife, and Richard Beasley, the now-retired FBI agent who arrested Ponder for bank robbery in 2004. Ponder and Beasley have since developed a close friendship.
The pardon comes as Republicans attempt to tout the president’s record on criminal justice reform while also establishing him as an ally of law enforcement. The president, however, has faced criticism for commuting the sentence of Roger Stone, the GOP operative who was found guilty of seven felonies, including witness tampering and lying to Congress during the Russia investigation, and pardoning supporter and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
On the convention’s first night, speakers criticized Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s role in passing the 1994 crime bill and praised the criminal justice reform bill Trump signed into law in 2018. On Thursday, Alice Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender whose sentence Trump commuted in 2018, will address the convention. The president has also granted clemency to some of Johnson’s friends.
At the same time, the president and his allies have falsely claimed that Biden wants to defund the police, and have suggested that Black Lives Matter and other protest groups will bring crime to the suburbs if Trump loses.
At the RNC, Republicans offered conflicting messages in a bid to bruise Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee who is leading President Trump in the polls.
The segment with Ponder and Beasley, and the focus on the friendship the two men have developed, hit on both themes. Beasley said that law enforcement officers in parts of the country don’t feel like they have the support of local leaders, but the president “knows that the overwhelming percentage of law enforcement officers are good, smart people who are doing their jobs very well.”
Ponder said he hopes that law enforcement and people in communities across the country will come together and realize what they have in common as Americans.
“Not so long ago my life was running from the police, fearing the police and avoiding the police,” he said. “Not because of anything that the police had done to me personally, but due to the animosity I had allowed to grow inside of me, making me believe that they were my enemy.”
“My first help and support came from the unlikeliest of places: the FBI agent who arrested me, Richard Beasley,” he said.
Trump previously highlighted the relationship between the two at a 2018 National Day of Prayer event at the White House where he shared Ponder’s story.
In the video that aired during the convention, Ponder said he received his first felony conviction at age 16, and spent several years over the next few decades in prison. In 2004, after he was arrested for a string of bank robberies, Ponder said, he prayed as he awaited what could have been a 23-year sentence. The judge gave him a reduced sentence.
“Ever since that day, I got up off that floor and my life went in a 180-degree turn, in the other direction,” he said.
In 2009 he founded Hope for Prisoners, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit that offers mentorship and job training to recently incarcerated men and women. In February the president attended a graduation ceremony for the program, where he helped hand out diplomas to individuals who’d completed the program. At the time, the president said Ponder was under consideration for a full pardon.
The president’s decision to grant clemency to Ponder follows a move by a Nevada board in March to grant a state pardon for domestic violence charges from 1994 to 2001.
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics teams from Sacramento to D.C.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.