Clene Perez is very transparent about her life and doesn’t shy away when talking about being incarcerated. 

“I didn’t serve too much time; however, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t in a prison. I was more in a mental and emotional prison so it was hard to transition over,” Perez said.

She lost the most important thing in her life during that transition. 

“I had no choice but to voluntarily relinquish the rights of my only son and my other daughter,” she said. 

She leaned on her faith hoping she would receive a second chance. She did through FREED Texas, a nonprofit that helps incarcerated folks transition into scholars. 

“FREED wants to bring the resources to our people, bring the speakers, bring the education and the healing to our scholars,” Perez said. 

Heavy conversations happen in the classroom. 

"They need us to work in these types of fields, fast food, or whether it be in hotel chains, they keep us here,” Perez said. 

Every scholar gets paid $15 an hour for the nine-week program, which offers civics classes, peer support, employment, health and wellness and helps them get enrolled in community college. FREED also pays for their Uber and Lyfts or computers if needed. 

“We want to be seen, we just want our rights, we want our rights back to citizens. We also want that elite education,” said Leonora Walker, chief executive officer and founder of FREED Texas. 

Walker said she was once incarcerated and had a difficult time transitioning into society, but it’s that turmoil, those experiences that allowed her to connect with her scholars beyond a surface level. 

“She cares about all of us. It’s nice for someone to believe in us,” one of the scholars said after commissioner's court. 

Perez said she was sold on Walker's story. 

“She’s facing and when I saw the program and then I heard her story, I said, ‘OK, I’m not alone,’ and it gave me a sensibility that not only could I trust, but I also wanted to be a part of it,” Perez said. 

FREED Texas has produced results. Many of its scholars are in college or have a job. Even Bexar County has taken notice and invested into this nonprofit. 

“We got $125,000 from Precinct 4 (Commissioner Tommy Calvert) and another $25,000 from Rebecca Clay Flores, so $150,00 all together,” Walker said. 

Perez has been called every name in the book, but she and the rest of her peers are scholars who just want to make their loved ones proud.