John Stockwell: Spirit of Gainesville nominee
Published: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 9:37 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 9:37 a.m.
It is so true that those who seem to benefit our community in dramatic ways are often those who do so quietly and without recognition. They work tirelessly to enable others to become productive members of our society, all the while eschewing the spotlight themselves. One of those people is John Stockwell. John works as a volunteer through the prison work-release system and the Alachua County Jail to bring hope and a plan to those who are incarcerated. He shows them that their time behind bars is not the end, but an opportunity for a new beginning.
Category: Community Service
About John Stockwell
Occupation: Restaurant Owner - El Toro, Alachua
Years in Gainesville: 20+
Spouse: Patty Stockwell
All of us have made wrong decisions at times in our lives. It is part of the learning process, and some make decisions that land them behind bars. John doesn't see wasted lives, John sees hope and potential. Having been there himself, he knows what it takes to overcome old patterns that will lead these people right back behind bars, as well as barriers of perception from the people they meet and the community they live in. He teaches life skills and takes a tough stance with the men he works with. He also teaches Bible studies and biblical principles for living a productive life on the outside. Those who have followed what John and his crew have taught have become productive members of society, often giving back themselves.
Working with John are 4 men who also teach Bible studies and offer a shoulder to lean on, or a push when it is needed. These men, under John's direction, have diverse personalities, yet a common goal. John keeps the group going, providing direction and encouragement.
He convinced the pastor of his church that having a half-way house for these men to go to once they taste freedom after prison would be a huge benefit. The house was purchased and has provided a stable place for the men to learn how to manage their lives, how to avoid old temptations, how to give back to the community. There are Bible studies, classes on finance, advice on dealing with the sometimes negative community perception of former inmates, as well as a strong shoulder to lean on when things are just too overwhelming. John shows the men how to take care of the house, how to budget their money and put money in savings, how to plan for a future, where to get the training they need to go into the profession that they choose, positive methods to deal with a negative work environment, and how to re-integrate into society without falling back into the habits that led them to prison in the first place.
What people don't know about John is the hundreds of hours of time that he devotes to these men and their lives. Many of the men move back to their home areas after leaving the half-way house, spread all throughout Florida, but their connection to John and to the prison ministry doesn't stop. John spends hundreds of hours on the phone keeping in touch with the men whose lives he has touched, continuing to guide and encourage them years and years after they have left the Gainesville area. And, if they fall back into old habits and wind up back in the prison system, he doesn't cast them away… he continues to work with them, taking their phone calls, writing letters to them, working with probation officers. He knows that the principles that were instilled within them are still there, and he offers the encouragement that these men need to be able to point their compass in the right direction without getting sidetracked.
The men that he has worked with have become productive members of society. They are lauded by their employers for their work ethic, and many own their own businesses, employing others and continuing on the ministry that John started in them of giving back and guiding others.
For almost 20 years John has given back to the community all while running an award winning restaurant with his wife, Patty. He is truly one of the unsung heroes of Alachua County.
Submitted by Theresa Flamand
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.