BENTON, Ark. – One local man is using his criminal past to change lives throughout central Arkansas.
Jeremy Evans of Benton once made headlines across the country. Formerly known as the “Ray Bandit” – robbing 17 different banks in seven states; Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Iowa, and California.
“I went to a sporting goods store I bought a big straw hat. Had a pair of sunglasses and I just wrote out with a pen on a piece of paper that I had a note saying this is a robbery give me the money,” Evans explains, as he recounts the very first time he robbed a bank.
Now, Evans works as a Career Specialist for the Goodwill and knows the value of second chances. He uses his past experiences to help those transitioning into society.
“I talk with people and tell them there is hope. That they have potential,” says Evans. “Mistakes happen and we don’t ever really know the real reasons behind someone’s actions.”
Evans’ multi-state robbery spree began unplanned the summer of 2012 when Evans says he lost his job and one day “just snapped emotionally”.
“I’ve experienced some hardships and wind up losing my job,” Evans explains. “I woke up one morning and actually said I am going to rob a bank.”
After spending five years in prison he was ready to make things right and get back to work.
Unfortunately, Evans quickly saw how his past followed him.
“Imagine taking your worst sin and wearing it on you like a sign,” says Evans. “People returning from prison can find it very difficult to find jobs.”
Evans says what he experienced was not something new or unique but more the norm.
“Not having a job coupled with the rejection can make people feel worthless and more likely to return to prison,” Evans explains. “I try to remind people that no matter their past they have value and give them respect.”
Evans agrees with folks about being hesitant and cautious around former criminals. However, he reminds people that everyone is human, can make mistakes and should be treated kindly.
“There is not a very large percentage of the population serving a life sentence. So when society, in general, treats someone like they are worthless that person is more likely to return to the crimes that lead them to prison in the first place and that’s bad for everyone because they are committing those crimes against their neighbors,” says Evans. “So whenever you treat somebody with disrespect you could be encouraging them to commit a crime against somebody you know.”
The Goodwill’s re-entry programs are just some of the ways the organization helps people like Evens to transition into society. The program is paid and runs for 16-weeks.
“They’ve literally changed my life,” Evans says. “Without Goodwill, I wouldn’t know what I would be doing. I certainly wouldn’t have a career path in front of me.”
For more information on Goodwill’s re-entry program, click here.