by Lucas L. Schulte
“I took what everyone said about tearing down, and made it into something beautiful: a home.” Though Harold was speaking of the rural mansion he restored, the same could be said about his life: what he felt others were tearing down, Released and Restored helped build up.
Harold’s good behavior in prison resulted in needing to serve only four and a half years of a nine-year sentence. Released and Restored helped make that time easier for him: “I looked forward every week to your program. There’s not a lot to look forward to in prison, but it gave us something to look forward to. I would have gone every day! It lifts your spirits.”
“You people cared for us, and that was different from programming put on by the prison, which from my perspective put us down. Released and Restored was an encouragement to us – it gave us hope. It gave me a glimmer of life that wasn’t there [in prison].”
When asked about his favorite memory of Released and Restored, Harold shared, “The couple of volunteers gave us so much encouragement! That’s so important for us, especially if someone is going to make it on the outside. Every one of your volunteers at Released and Restored was encouraging. They didn’t treat us like animals.”
Harold has been out for nearly eight years now. One of his favorite social outlets besides time with family has been going to four senior dances each week. In addition to dancing, Harold sometimes plays his trumpet or even sings with the dance bands.
It was at one of these dances four years ago that he met Sandy. Harold recalls, “When I first saw her, she was dancing with another man that I thought she came with. Later on, I saw she was sitting and visiting with a woman, and I asked her to dance. I danced with her the rest of the evening.” Harold later asked his counselor if he knew of her; his counselor did and told Harold that Sandy would be a great person for him. So, Harold called her to ask her out on a date. Two months later, they got married and are still together today.
Harold has always been up front about his past – a trait Released and Restored teaches in its programming. Harold told Sandy about his past before he would take her on their first date. He said he would understand if she wanted to back out of their date. Sandy agreed to go to the movie with Harold. Sandy states: “I believe people should have a second chance.”
Sandy later encountered someone who told her of Harold’s past, but she replied about how Harold had been up front with her about his past on their very first date. “He’s served his time already, and he’s trying now to do the right thing. I believe everyone deserves a second chance.”
Harold feels fortunate to live where he does in the state, and for the people there who have given him a second chance. “A friend once said to me, ‘Harold, you made a mistake. That don’t mean you are a bad person.’ Released and Restored helped me to understand this: yeah, we made a mistake, but we had a future.” Such a future was one that Harold began to plan again and look forward to after prison. Upon release, Harold looked into pursuing those plans. “Some plans came through; others I realized were impractical and I set them aside.” Harold found a place for himself out in the country, and soon began looking into churches. Just as he did with Sandy, Harold was up front about his past with the churches he approached. Some turned him away, but others welcomed him. He decided upon one particular church, where he would eventually become an elder in this church. From there he met a farmer who gave him employment with farm work and carpenter work.
It was out in the country that Harold came across the hundred year-old mansion that had lain abandoned for forty-five years. While others advised him to tear down the mansion, Harold worked on the farm during the day and began renovating it at night. Now nearly completed, Harold and Sandy call this mansion home, with Sandy planting beautiful flower gardens all around it.
Harold now enjoys his freedom in particular with Sandy. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic began, they attended the same dances where they first met. Harold and Sandy have a truck and RV which they love taking camping—most recently camping in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Sandy shared with us her favorite character traits of Harold: “He’s positive and he is my friend. He’s willing to talk to me about everything.” When we asked Sandy about Released and Restored, she stated: “You’ve been such a positive influence on his life.”
Harold sums up Released and Restored to the public: “It was absolutely the best thing that could happen to me in prison. It far outstripped what the state offered to us.
“You guys helped me a lot. You helped me through the worst time in my life.”