Requesting an interview with Mr. Fenelon was a fear that I was battling with, because I had to get to a place of openess and understanding of people without judgment. Although, as human beings we constantly judge a book by its cover, I had to decide for myself to let go of my thoughts to truly see the change Ernst has undergone to help and influence others, to be able to publish this story.

In proceeding with this interview, I realized that one of the components in life that many people don’t recognize that shape their decisions throughout their daily lives is the “fear to loose it all”. Many continue to struggle with their challenges and fears while others like Ernst, have found a way to step out on faith and consciously do the work that is needed to overcome his fears of  being Judged in many ways. Being able to witness and feel, his freedom  to help others through his trials and tribulations, I have decided not to delve into details of his incarceration, because at the end of it all, what really matters is the future and how one person is recognizing their worth one by one , because of Mr. Fenelon. His story has definitely inspired me and many people in his community, which is why I wanted to share his story and Inspiration that I felt as I was interviewing Mr.Fenelon.

JH: What was your story that actually got you to the path of where you are in life?

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Ernst W/ His Dad

EFShortly after my father died in 1988, two things happened. I began to decline into a serious depression and I met a woman with a young child with whom I would start what would be a 2 ½ year relationship. The relationship was very rocky at a time when I needed strength and stability. Ultimately the relationship ended badly and I took actions that I have remorse for and regret which lead to my incarceration.

Sometimes in life, you don’t realize what you have until it is taken away from you. That was me. I didn’t appreciate how blessed I was in life. I only focused on my challenges and problems until I could think of nothing else. It was only when the truly precious things in life (family and friends who love you; health; freedom; being alive; etc.) were taken or in serious jeopardy that I realized how much they meant to me.

When I was at my lowest, someone shared a proverb which said: “The man with no shoes stopped complaining when he met the man with no feet”. It stuck with me and reminded me things could be worse. I was at least alive and had a chance to live. I began regaining my humanity at that point and have continue on that journey.

JH: How did you gather the pieces of your life to start over?

EF: It wasn’t easy, but I started with restoring my faith and my relationship with Almighty God. I had lost faith as my life turned out different than I expected.

Probably the biggest event that made me lose faith and hope was my father’s death. After battling cancer and related health issues for 10 years, it became clear my father was dying. I was raised believing at some point that if one pleads with Almighty God, and prays fervently, He would answer their prayers. If He didn’t then it meant “they” didn’t “deserve” to have their prayers answered and He had turned His “back” to them. I thought that I could “Bargain” with The Almighty. I prayed and he still died, so I thought The Almighty had given up on my family and me. So I gave up on The Almighty. As my life spiraled downwardly out of control, eventually I found myself about to lose everything including my life. It was in a moment of complete solitude from everything and everyone I valued that I felt a presence that I call The Almighty. The spiritual conversation went something like Almighty God saying to me: “I never left. I have been here right beside you the whole time and always will be. I love you no matter what you said or did. It’s not your time”. I began to believe again that Almighty God’s plan for my life has positive purpose. I began to reconnect through prayers of remorse, seeking mercy and forgiveness. My spiritual journey led me to accept Islam and become Muslim.

I came to accept the philosophy that “actor” and “act(s)” are separate. Therefore the “act” (my aberrant behavior) can be condemned without condemning the “actor” (me). This was an important self-concept in the process of healing, self-forgiveness and remorse for injuring others. I participated in several individual and group therapy sessions designed to give me tools to cope and heal my mind, heart and soul. I became open again to receive the tremendous love, support and prayers of family and real friends. I then reached out to family and friends and apologized for my behavior and for any hurt I caused them.

I focused on what I could learn to contribute to society and create a livelihood. I renewed my studies of computer programs, but started studying business and constitutional law. I found I had a talent for law and developed a career as a law clerk/secretary. Eventually I left law and pursued a life dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

Lastly, I wanted to help those who needed help. I appreciated so much those who helped me when I needed it. I wanted to do the same for others. This led to my decision to work in hospice and other opportunities to help others. Even if it is just a smile.

JH: What inspired you to want better for yourself and life?

EF: My restored faith in Almighty God’s (Allah) love for me is first. My family/friends spiritual faith was important too. Their love for me and their unwavering belief that I am by nature a “good” person was critical. The history of my parents leaving Haiti to come to the USA to have a better life for me played a role too.

For me, Inspired means to operate from the “Spirit” with an outwardly focus of Love. Ultimately, my Spirit, under the correct influences and outward focus, wants everyone to be joyful. My spirit looks for opportunities to improve or make things “better” to achieve that goal. When I became inwardly focused on my problems, I became selfish and self-centered. I lost inspiration and began to operate in satisfying the flesh and mind. I discovered both are insatiable and any joy or happiness attained through pure selfishness is temporary. At the end of the day, I find it most fulfilling when I connect and contribute with/to others.

JH: What transitions and/or steps did you take to realize this is the way I will give back?

EF: I believe it was a progressive small steps with some quantum leaps in between. First, I had to help myself by working on being independent as much as possible. I had to learn to take complete care of myself without complete reliance on others. I had to learn to forgive and love myself first before I could really love others.

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Ernst and His wife Lori

I started “giving back” to others by helping out wherever I could. I would look for opportunities to be an extra hand. I would volunteer for cleanup after parties or events. I would take the unpopular opportunities that others passed up. I gave money in the form of religious duty (“tithes” while under Christianity and “Zakat” under Islam), but I began to believe that wasn’t enough. One day one of my mentors invited me to participate in an “extreme home makeover” of an elderly woman in his community. Her property had fallen into a state of decay. I participated and it changed my life!I then looked for opportunities in business that would empower others. I loved the environment and principles of World Financial Group (WFG) with its ability to have a great self-empowerment program with a great compensation package! I met my wife who had already been with WFG for years and together we are building a great company by building great people. I also, liked the similar self-improvement concepts of Melaleuca, the wellness company, where I am building a business empire by building people up as well.

JH: With giving back, what made you begin to start working as a program coordinator at PEP?

EF: When the opportunity to go into prisons and talk to and inspire inmates was first presented to me, I declined it. I thought that I was too busy getting my life together and honestly was freaked out with the prospect of going through the doors of a prison. I was sure that I would not get approved, based on the negative comments of others. Also, I didn’t think I had something to share that would make a difference to the lives of those incarcerated. Then I had a crisis in my life that turned my world upside down and challenged my perspective on everything. At the same time the Prison Education Project (PEP) was about to have its initial session. Thankfully, my mentor Dr. Renford Reese, Ph.D. challenged me with what would I have to lose by applying and if approved, sharing my story, which he felt was inspirational. I am so thankful for his persistence and belief in me. I applied, was approved and the rest is history. This one leap of faith has change my life and that of many others. For me, with my entire life in turmoil, it gave me personal direction and purpose. I found out that my life and how I have overcome challenges is very motivational and inspirational for many.

JH: How do you feel that this position, has made a positive influence on others?

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Key Note Speaker

EF: My position as Program Coordinator proves that anything is possible and that unchallenged limitations cannot be broken or changed. I have been on panels, groups and gatherings for local and global perspectives on rehabilitation. I have spoken to dozens upon dozens of college students about restorative justice and meaning rehabilitation. I have traveled to Uganda and spoken to hundreds of maximum security inmates and inspired them to be better, and not bitter. I have had numerous inmates tell me they are inspired to transform their lives. I even had one inmate tell me that he changed his mind from committing suicide because I cared to continue to show up and care. I was told none of these things would ever happen but because I challenged “those limitations”, they changed!

JH: How do you see that your work is you’re calling?

EF: I believe that everything happens for a reason. To be able to take personal tragedy and turn it into triumph is amazing. I thought at first that my incarceration was just a waste, but now I think different. It started from the point that I embraced my past as just that; my past. What makes it powerful is who I became through the process and since then. I became better and not bitter because I found blessings in the intangible things of life: being alive, being positive and helping others.

My current business and work is an extension of who I am. It could be said that my motto could be the following: “To love those that are easy to hate, to help those it is easy not to want to help and to care about those some would want to forget”. I am not a saint. Just a human being that works every day to see the humanity and spiritually in everyone, including myself.

JH: Along, with you being a program coordinator for PEP, how have you correlated that to also becoming a business entrepreneur?

EF: I was taught that to be a true entrepreneur, I had to understand that I am in the “people” business. What that means to me is that my business is understanding the wants and need of people, their thoughts and behaviors. I am not in the business of the “product” or “service” I am offering.

The same can be said of the PEP Program Coordinator position; it is my “business” to understand the minds and hearts of the inmates, staff and students. Our purpose is the transformation of preconceptions, perceptions and bias of others in the pursuit of the realization that we are all connected, through the human spirit regardless of social status and position. I treat the program and its challenges like a business, bringing professionalism and diplomacy in addressing issues and concerns.

JH: What would be you’re advice to others who have been in your position?

EF: The first step is to pensively reflect and take personal accountability and responsibility for one’s actions and attitude. I have come to believe that each individual is ultimately responsible for only two things in the universe: their actions and attitude. I encourage people to become aware of what are the influences in their life that effect their thoughts and actions. I deeply encourage people to get out of the “Blame Game” as quickly as possible. No one else is responsible for their happiness. Blaming gives away power. Accepting responsibility gives power. The power to change simply by making a real decision and acting upon it.

One must take time to properly nourish the mind, body and soul/spirit. The soul/spirit is nourished by prayer and/or meditation and connection. The mind is nourished by the ideals and thoughts it consumes. Consume positive thoughts and ideas and it begins producing positive thoughts and ideas, which in turn produce positive actions. The body is nourished by proper intake of water, nutritional foods, exercise and rest. Lastly, I advise to look at one’s associations (positive associations encourage positive actions, etc.) and get a mentor who will always inspire positive growth and critical thinking in pursue of one’s positive goals.

JH: What is one important life lesson have you learned, that you feel that you can pass on to others?

EF: I had the opportunity and privilege to work in a hospice for a few years. The Life lesson I learned is “Life is too short to get to your death bed and realize that you haven’t really lived”. I learned that I don’t want to spend a lot of energy arguing over issues (sports, religion, politics, etc.) that won’t matter when I am about to die. It’s critical to get crystal clear on what is really important to you. Some questions that have helped me get crystal clear is: Who do you love? Why do you love them? What do you want to do for them and leave behind for them? Get Crystal Clear and truly Live!

JH: What is a quote that you live by on an everyday basis?

EH: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”-Mahatma Gandhi

 

Ernst at the Ghandi Memorial

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