To hear Peter Ninemire talk about his decades-long career in social work and addiction treatment, you’d never know that in 1990, he was number three on the state of Kansas’ most wanted list, or that a year later he’d be serving a 27-year federal mandatory minimum sentence for the cultivation and trade of marijuana.
Fortunately, after 10 years behind bars, Peter was granted clemency by Bill Clinton in 2001. These days, Peter is driven by his work, and he considers himself “blessed by a really close family,” including his daughter Brianna, 19, to whom he is a single father. His mother, who passed away just four months before his commutation, remains a source of inspiration.
Peter grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, a rebellious son of the late ’60s and early ’70s, for whom drugs became a way to cope with a complex relationship with authority, especially his father. While his siblings were going to college, raising families, and building careers, Peter began to sell drugs as a way to supply his own habit. He now sees his story as one of “emotional dependency,” all too common among addicts.
“I come to work every day and have to pinch myself to believe it’s for real.”
While in prison, Peter says he realized that “the only real satisfaction in life comes from helping others. You can only have what you give.” So, assuming that he was looking at decades incarcerated, Peter dedicated himself to service and civic action behind bars. He became active in a variety of organizations, and helped to establish a prison youth counseling program with the assistance of local NAACP and FAMM chapters. By the time he was given his second chance at life on the outside, Peter was already primed to make a difference.
Following his release, Peter returned to Kansas, but struggled to receive funding and support to continue his prison advocacy work. Finally, an acquaintance suggested that a college degree might open more doors. Peter took the suggestion and ran with it: He earned his master’s degree in social work on drug treatment alternatives to prison, and is the proud owner and operator of the Caring Center of Wichita, a behavioral health and substance abuse facility.
Peter now spends his days seeing patients, and recalls that after years of being “afraid to dream what I wanted, what I could be, I come to work every day and have to pinch myself to believe it’s for real.”
Peter’s service work and advocacy extends even further. Motivated by his own struggle to find work and housing due to his felony convictions, he dedicates time to advocate for better treatment of returning citizens. Recently he helped Kansas State Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau draft a bill allowing certain people with suspended driver’s licenses to regain privileges, breaking the cycle of disenfranchisement and getting them back to work.
Next up, Peter says, is “taking the time to write a book. Ultimately, I want to get on a speaking circuit and really promote justice reinvestment,” an approach to criminal justice reform that involves the redirection of funds from prisons to social support.
On his life of service, Peter is unequivocal: “I love what I’m doing now. I feel like I was born to do it and I had to go through everything in my life previously to be able to do it.” Getting his second chance has “given me my entire life back and I’ve been able to just live my life to my fullest every day. It’s so crazy. I’m trying to give back.”
Peter is like thousands of returning citizens, laser-focused on making their communities stronger, healthier, and safer. To read more stories like this, go here.
It’s hard not to feel Peter’s joy and determination to change the world for the better when you hear him talk about his Second Chance. Take a listen: