DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The Pegasus Prize is one of the most prestigious grants given out by the Dallas Foundation every year. It goes to those who are working to carry out its mission to change lives. This year's recipient is Jason Wang.
At the age of 15, Wang was taken into police custody for aggravated robbery, a first degree felony. He was sent to a juvenile corrections facility where he would spend the next three years. It allowed him a lot of time to think.
"As an incarcerated inmate, it was always my dream to get out into the free world and to make a difference and make a change in not only in my own life, but the lives of others," he said.
Upon his release, he went on to receive two master's degrees from the University of Texas at Dallas.
"Despite having two masters degrees as soon as I went over to an employer they would see my criminal record...and," he said.
He explains when you can't find a job or afford your basic needs sadly, many criminals turn back to a life of crime.
"So what would it look like if we were able to save the states tons of money on re-incarceration costs as well as help these individuals into living wage jobs?" he said.
These thoughts are what led him to create his non-profit Join FreeWorld.
He launched an online system that teaches people leaving the criminal justice system how to get their commercial driver's license. The organization pays to put them though trucking school, then upon graduation, it uses its connections and partnerships to line them up with jobs.
"These are jobs that are paying $50-$80,000 per year," Wang said. "Right now the need for truckers is at an all-time high. They need over 1 million drivers in the next 10 years just to keep up with current economic demand."
In the the three years Join FreeWorld has been in operation, they've helped employ more than 1,000 former inmates across the country.
They've been named the Dallas Foundation's 2021 Pegasus Prize winner, receiving a $50,000 grant which will expand their reach even more.
"It's our way to recognize nonprofits, for profits or other organizations that are thinking about innovative ways to solve really complex challenges," The Dallas Foundation's Mathew Randazzo said.
"The Pegasus Prize really brings this full circle," Wang said. "I'm able to go back to the community that I've taken so much from and actually help people so it's just a really, really amazing feeling."
Wang said this money will allow his organization to fund education and build more connections and partnerships.
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