Dennis Freedom Horton, 52, spends his days doing work he seems born for – connecting with people and serving his community in Philadelphia. He facilitates the Wellness Recovery Action Plan program (WRAP), which helps people in prison and others improve their lives, and Shining Light, which provides reentry programming that “transforms the lives of participants and prison environments, resulting in lower recidivism, better neighbors, and stronger communities.” He advocates for men he left behind, including finding pro bono lawyers for them.
On top of all that, he’s engaged to be married and maintains close relationships with his family, especially his brother, Lee. Dennis has done more in the two years – the amount of time he’s been free after 28 years behind bars – than many people manage in their lifetimes.
But none of this would be possible without the second chance he and Lee got in the form of clemency from their life sentences in 2021. “We’re not going to sit around and we are not going to complain,” Dennis says, speaking of the mindset that kept the pair going in prison – and prepared them to jump right into a life of purpose and service when they got out. “We are going to do. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
It was in prison that the brothers connected with WRAP, which Dennis describes as transformative. “You don’t have to allow yourself to see a ceiling in your life,” he says.
He also is laser-focused on trying to stop violence in Philadelphia, where he’s recently bought his first home. He is deeply aware of the impact our broken criminal justice system has had on his community, and he sees a direct connection between repairing those communities in part by giving more people a second chance – like he and Lee had.
“I can just imagine what it would look like out here in our communities if a lot of the men and women who are stuck in those prisons – people doing great work inside, who are transformed, rehabilitated – were able to come back out here to these communities. Places that are struggling with violence, with a lot of trauma, a lot of pain, and if those people were able to be a part of helping to heal some of these areas. Imagine the difference it would make.
“People think that people in prison are not intelligent. That they can’t come back to society and contribute, particularly those who’ve been behind bars for a substantial amount of time. Most of those people did their crimes when they were young. Today, many of them are kind and considerate, gentle and thoughtful.
“I know this firsthand because these were the men who mentored Lee and me when we came in, who helped us to step into a world that I don’t think anyone could be prepared for. They helped us to transform to better people. They mentored us to become the mentors. And now that we’re out and committed to healing our communities, it’s because of them. These people deserve second chances. And our communities, our families, our futures – we need these people home.”
Will you help us shine a light on more people who got a second chance like Dennis did and are proving the alarmist headlines wrong? Please read and share the many stories in our Free to Succeed series.
Listen to Dennis get to the heart of what being free means to him: