THE BLOG
02/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Strange Bedfellows: Bush Bids Farewell to Ex-Con

When President Bush bid farewell to America in his last speech as president yesterday he clearly wished to highlight what he viewed as the successful moments in his 8-year presidency. The most meaningful moment to me -- and perhaps the strangest -- was when he acknowledged a former prisoner who was sitting in the front row watching Bush.

The honoree was Julio Medina, founder and executive director of Exodus Transitional Program (ETC) in Harlem New York. In 2004 Medina became a grant recipient from the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program created by the Bush administration. Though some Americans may have a problem with these initiatives, this former drug-war prisoner showed that, despite their controversy, they can work.

In 1999, Julio opened Exodus Transitional Community in East Harlem, New York, to assist formerly incarcerated men and women as they integrated back into the community. His organization offers social, economic, educational and spiritual support to individuals in transition from incarceration, drug addiction and homelessness. The amazing thing about Exodus is that its staff consists entirely of ex-offenders or individuals directly affected by incarceration. Since its doors opened, Exodus has assisted more than 3,000 clients. Medina had faith that a program such as Exodus could make a difference in the lives of the disenfranchised and marginalized. This is no easy task. After spending years in prison, many men and women are emotionally and spiritually drained.

I know Julio well. We both attended the New York Theological Seminary at Sing Sing prison where we were doing time under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. In 2002, I coordinated press conferences for both Andrew Cuomo and Tom Galisano in their prospective runs for governor. Julio was kind enough to host the events at the Church of Living Hope located downstairs from ETC. At that time, Medina was a starry-eyed dreamer who had big dreams and aspirations. He wanted to save the lives of prisoners who had walked the same road he had. He thought that, if he could somehow involve the political process in his dream, it could become a success. His dream became a reality when President Bush stepped into Medina's life.

Maybe President Bush invited Mr. Media to the White House to witness his farewell speech because it would somehow mend his guilty conscious from never paying a price for his youthful indiscretions. Whatever the reason the president had, it showed that people can change their lives if given the opportunity?