In 1998, Jason Hernandez was convicted on 15, federal counts of drug charges. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 320 years at 20-years-old.
The same man who was supposed to die in prison was given a second chance at life and now doing something good with it.
“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why,” Hernandez said. “For me, it was the day that I thought I wasn’t born to be a prisoner.”
The McKinney native admits his incarceration was warranted, but he knew if he got the chance, he would spend the rest of his life on a greater calling. To right the wrongs of his younger life.
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Hernandez, who was incarcerated at this same time as his brother, worked towards clemency and never lost hope it may happen. He read “The Audacity of Hope” by then-President Barack Obama and started doing research on how to have his sentence commuted.
“I wrote him a telling him that I know what I did and that I am extremely sorry for it. It wasn’t until I received clemency and was out of jail that I was told President Obama actually read my letter,” Hernandez said. “The day I received clemency was like I was born again. It was like getting a brand new birth certificate.”
The odds were stacked against Hernandez the entire time. President Obama received tens of thousands of petitions for clemency during his tenure in the White House after he made it clear his administration was pushing for criminal justice reform, especially when it came to life sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
He said he has spent every day since his release in the summer if 2015, giving back to the community he said he took so much from. He volunteers with various programs within schools and alternative classrooms throughout McKinney, like Serenity High School and McKinney ISD's Discipline Alternative Education Program.
His mission is to reach the kids who are going down the wrong path before it’s too late. He teaches mindfulness, yoga, and host poetry contest teaching young people how to express themselves in positive ways. Practices he said he learned while actually in prison.
“Sometimes everybody isn’t dealt a full hand. Again, in our community, we don’t have bad kids. We have kids that make bad decisions,” Hernandez said.
He plans to launch his AT LAST program in the fall. It’s an acronym for Aspire Texas Latinos Achieving and Succeeding Together. If the pandemic forces schools back to online learning, he said he will just continue his efforts remotely.
Hernandez is no longer held by handcuffs, but he said he is held to a different standard now. One that is much higher than he ever dreamed.
“I’m from McKinney. I was born in McKinney and I wanted to come back to this community and kind of make up for the wrong that I did. I want to help these kids, so they don’t have to go through what I went through. I want them to learn right from wrong,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez has also recently released a book, Get Clemency Now, as part of his criminal justice reform push. He said he is donating copies to jails and prisons across the country so inmates and their families will have the tools they need while behind bars. He said while some people can’t or don’t want to be rehabilitated, there are some who do. Some who were non-violent offenders just like him in need of a second chance.
Hernandez has directly helped seven prisoners get clemency through former President Obama and President Donald Trump. He said he has indirectly helped dozens more.