Pete with a GPS tool while working at his construction job.
In March 2017, Governor Doug Ducey implemented three Second Chance Centers (SCCs) within Arizona prisons, with the goal of creating safer communities and lowering recidivism. When an inmate is within 60-90 days of release from Lewis, Perryville and Tucson prisons, they have the option to participate in the employment rehabilitation program administered as a partnership between the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR).
Pete Hicks, who was an inmate during the infancy of the SCC program, was one of the people who helped shape the program that has helped more than 5,000 inmates attain employment resources as of April 2022.
When the SCC program started, Pete couldn’t be a participant because he wasn’t close to release. He was serving time at the Tucson Prison Complex, but was on his third stint of incarceration, amassing nearly 15 years of time behind bars by the time the SCC program was created. He instead became one of the first Department of Corrections Reentry Support Specialists (RSSs). Pete was ready to change not only his life for the better, but the lives of his fellow inmates, too.
“I realized, if I don’t change, nothing is going to change,” Pete said. “I know change starts on the inside, and if I don’t work on myself in a positive way and change my mindset and the way I think about life, then nothing is ever going to change for me.”
As an RSS, he was able to mentor the other inmates participating in the SCC program, and assist the DES and ADCRR reentry staff with clerical work. He also helped facilitate classes and sat down one-on-one with other inmates to discuss their mindset and help “get them on a path that would be good for them and help them change their outlook on life,” Pete said.
Kenny Curiel, a Reentry Coordinator with DES and an original supporter of the SCC program, was one of the SCC counselors at the Manzanita Tucson Unit when Pete was an RSS. Kenny could tell Pete was motivated to turn his life around. He was so motivated and amped up to assist the SCC program, Kenny likened him to the “Energizer Bunny.”
“It was what the program needed because he was all about his life,” Kenny said. “He was one of those guys who would tell you, ‘Yes, I’m in prison, but mentally I’m a free man.’ He was one of those guys who was free before being released. He professed it, he lived it, and a lot of people looked up to him, wanting to get to that level, and he was what helped bring the guys to the program.”
RELATED: Mesa Resident Finds Second Chance, Help Through DES Reentry
Kenny gives such high praise to Pete because of his ability to get other inmates actively involved in the program, which is completely voluntary. Now, with the success of Pete’s role as an RSS, every SCC has someone like Pete supporting fellow inmates.
“He helped bridge the gap to make the program what it is today,” Kenny said.
Pete on a tractor while working at his construction job
After being an RSS for two years, it was finally Pete’s time to become an SCC participant, and he took full advantage of it. While he was a participant, he earned his GED, participated in employment activities like hiring events, and racked up numerous hours within rehabilitation programs — as he was in the sobriety process.
“When I became a part of that program and I saw what that program was about, it gave me a sense of hope that I never had before,” he said. “They offered me a chance to apply for a job, find housing, and all of the things that I needed to be successful. I had never been offered that before.”
When Pete graduated from the Second Chance program and was released from prison in 2019, he took full advantage of his second chance. The former Phoenix resident started anew in Tucson, as it represented “a complete change” in his life. He is now a GPS green checker in training with a construction company, happily married, and is closing on the purchase of a house.
Despite fulfilling his goals, his RSS habits of helping others have never left him. Every Sunday, Pete leads a narcotics anonymous program at the Pima Reentry Center to help those who are in a similar situation as he was just a few years ago.
“I’m still trying to get in there and tell those guys that there’s hope. I’ve been there. I’ve been in their shoes and in that chair. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to have that open mind and do something different for yourself.”
For more information about the DES Reentry Program, visit the Reentry page.