Smart Justice Stories Project: John

John is a middle-aged balding white man looking at the camera and smiling from in front of a business's wall and window into an office.

About the Smart Justice Idaho Stories Project

Too many Idahoans have been negatively affected by our criminal justice system--a system that still relies on out-of-date, "tough on crime" policies and punitive approaches to justice that don't work and aren't right for Idaho. 

We believe in the power of Idahoans stories to shape the conversation around criminal justice reform in our state. Together, we can transform Idaho's criminal justice system to be more fair, equitable and rooted in community based solutions. 


John was born in Saint Maries, Idaho. He attended North Idaho College for a couple of semesters and also completed three years of electrician trade school. Unfortunately, in 1997 he was convicted on a drug charge and sentenced to 180 days in prison, putting a halt to his education. John’s willingness to move forward landed him a Sales Manager job at Ace Industrial Supply once he got out of prison. Now, he is able to help others like him get back on their feet as well.

What was the hardest obstacle that you had to overcome post-incarceration?

That was only my first felony conviction [1997, sentence was for 180 days]. I ended up going back to prison two more times after that. I was addicted. I had addiction problems forever and I think at some point in time, people were thinking that I would never get it. I also felt like I was in a box. I didn’t think that I could make it myself. Luckily, the last time I went into the prison system, I was fortunate enough to go to a community work center; I was able to get a job where my employer, Joe Howell, believed in me.

Do you feel that finding employment helped you cope with your addiction and help you get back on your feet?

Definitely. If you are not employed as a man or woman, your self-worth, it’s not there. I think employment, wanting to live without the addiction, and having to balance life, is the key. Employment goes right with that.

What was your experience reintegrating back into society?

For me, it's never really slowed me down. I feel that the people that knew me, or knew my story, of course had some reservations, but as far as going to work, I never had it slow me down in any aspect. I feel that having the opportunity to do the community work center program in prison, that helped me a lot once I got out.

If you had the opportunity to talk to your lawmaker what would you tell them or ask of them?

I don’t think that people's mistakes should hold them back in life because I’m living proof that people can change and be successful. The last time I was released, I was 39 years old and I didn’t really have anything. Fast forward to today, that was seven years ago almost to the day, and I make a six-figure income. I employ other people. Everybody deserves a chance to not be judged by his past. I’m not the only one; there are plenty of us out there that when given the right opportunities and being able to put in the hard work, we can make a difference.

My assistant here at the office did a rider program and he got out three years ago. He’s building his own house, getting married, he has a baby, and he made $100,000 last year. To me, that is such a huge win, and I got to be a part of his change, too. The same thing that Joe Howell did for me — it is kind of cool to be able to give back like that, as well.