MILWAUKEE — From 20 years behind bars to a full-blown businessman, Ed Hennings has a story to tell.
The Milwaukee man is sharing his tragedies and triumphs to inspire more young Black men to reach their dreams.
Hennings recalls an important moment in his life. It was 1996 and he was waiting for a jury to hand down a verdict on his first-degree homicide charge.
"My goals and my dreams, they kinda showed up," he shared. "I made a promise while I was sitting there waiting for the jury - that if I got another chance, I wouldn't need a third."
He says he was found guilty of a lesser charge, reckless homicide, for shooting and killing someone during a neighborhood dispute. He went to prison at 24 years old and came out at 44. Despite this, he never forgot that promise he made to himself.
"A lot of people where I'm from, they need (to) see it more often," Hennings said.
It took a lot of work, starting with his first year on release.
"I made $7.25 and I tried to save every coin I could, and there was $7,500 making minimum wage," he said. "So, with $7,500 I bought an $800 car (and started) cutting hair."
With $6,700 left, he saw another opportunity.
"So I took $5,500 and I bought me a shipment of weaves. I bet on me. Within a year, I opened up my own barber shop," he said.
Now six years out of prison, he sold the barber shop and started his own trucking company, giving new opportunities to employees like Shyron Williams.
"For him to come and pick up others and give them a chance, that's what he did for me," said Williams.
Hennings wrote two books about his commitment to his community. He still goes back to the Waupun prison he got out of to talk to the inmates.
"Lift morale and say, 'Look at me, I still got my prison ID in my wallet so I can show you.' Some guys have gotten out and then when I go back, I'm like man you're back in here and they like [cover their face]," he said.
State records show the chances of prisoners re-offending after release could depend on where they live. In Milwaukee, re-incarceration is at more than 43 percent. Surrounding counties are slightly lower at about 36 to 40 percent.
Broken down by race, the Department of Corrections' most recent numbers from 2016 showed Black prisoners have a 10 percent higher chance of re-incarceration, at about 46 percent compared to white prisoners, which is at about 36 percent.
This shows why Hennings' encouragement means a difference.
"There's no such things as failure. There's quitters," he said. "If you're willing to put in the work, the time in, you can't fail. Now you can quit early, but you can't fail."
To learn where to find Hennings' books, click here.