By: Alicia Turner | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 2, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- As Sterling Westberry opens for business every day, where he sells fresh fruit and savory salads, he also serves up a side of his personal story.
"Our past and what we go through is what propels us," Westberry said, "It's what dictates and what molds us into who we are."
For him, that past is one spent behind bars.
"When you're breaking the law, when you're doing wrong, you think 'If I don't get caught with it, I'm good.' I found out the hard way that that's not reality," he said.
Reality came in 1998, when Westberry was convicted in a federal court of conspiracy to traffic cocaine. He received a sentence of life in prison.
"I didn't believe I had done that type of crime to be given that amount of time," Westberry explains.
After more than 20 years behind bars, he was granted clemency in 2016 under President Obama. He says his second chance came as a bitter sweet moment.
"I could have done so much more in my life. I could have done things that really would have made a difference in my community versus being part of the problem," he thinks to himself.
Florida has a recidivism rate of 33 percent; meaning, one in three inmates released from prison will return within three years.
That's a statistic Westberry says he''s working hard to not become a part of.
"When I got out, I didn't look for a job. I created one," Westberry says proudly.
Arland Billups is a part of the Ready For Work program in Leon County, who helps those with stories like Westberry's re-entering into society.
"We're trying to get them to not lose hope, that's the main thing," Billups explains.
Both of Westberry and Billups say the key to lowering the rate of re-incarcerations is education, employment and mentality.
"The system says, because you did this, you're limited to what you can do because you're a felon," Billups said. "You have to get over the fact that that's the past. We look at what's now and how we can move forward."
For Westberry, he says he's found what he loves: Feeding the community and being allowed to tell his story.
Two decades of his life, he says, he'll never get back.
But, he plans to spend the next decades wisely, hoping his story is one of inspiration, showing others how to turn tragedy into triumph.