- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Going to federal prison changed Jenny Hughes’ life - for the better.

During the nearly two years she was incarcerated at a low-security facility in Florida, Hughes learned a lot about herself and made lifelong friends, The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1NzLUfe ) reports.

Now she wants to help others who are re-entering society after being incarcerated. Hughes said she realizes how lucky she is to have a family that has stood by her. A lot of people don’t have anything to come back to, she said.

Her father owns Dave’s Auto Sales, 1434 S. Kansas Ave., and Hughes now works there. She said for many people with a felony on their record, employment can be a major hurdle. But having a record, she said, doesn’t make you a bad person.

Because her father is getting ready to retire, Hughes plans to take over the auto sales shop with help from her 23-year-old son. They also plan to expand the business by adding a mechanic’s shop. She said she hopes employing formerly incarcerated people at the shop will help give them a second chance.

In September 2012, Hughes pleaded guilty to bank fraud committed while working at Heritage Bank in Topeka. When she entered prison, she was angry, she said.

Hughes said a program called Get it Right helped her discover who she really is. Through her experience, she said, she also learned who her true family and friends are.

“Going there, it changed my life,” she said. “It was meant for me to go there.”

Hughes said she now questions who she was before being sent to prison and realizes how judgmental she was. She looked down on people and also assumed anyone who was incarcerated had done something wrong.

Though she grew from the experience, she said, it affected her family and relationships, and she missed out on milestones while incarcerated.

Hughes was released to a Topeka halfway house in late September 2014 and completed probation in December 2015.

This past February, she closed on a house.

“That was a huge accomplishment for me,” she said.

With her life now back on track, Hughes said she wants to help people going through similar struggles she faced when re-entering society.

Hughes already has reached out to women who are being released from prison. In February, she met Amy Valdez shortly after her release. Valdez said Hughes has helped her transition back into society.

“She’s been an amazing support - someone I can talk to about anything. She’s very caring,” Valdez said.

In March, Hughes helped Valdez find a job. Valdez said working in accounting at a publishing company has gone well so far.

Hughes said she plans to continue her outreach efforts by keeping in touch with staff at the halfway house. Eventually, she said, she also wants to assist those coming out of incarceration with housing options.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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