Out in the Open

How do you leave your past behind when you're a career criminal?

One hundred convictions and hard time in more prisons than he can remember, Lee Chapelle has officially retired as a career criminal. But freeing yourself from a criminal past isn’t easy.
Lee Chapelle was convicted nearly 100 times before he left his criminal past behind. (Submitted by Lee Chapelle)
"I began stealing money from my parents' drawers when I was probably eight, nine or 10-years-old. There was shoplifting from local stores, chocolate bars, that sort of thing when I was young. That escalated to cars in the neighbourhood, unlocked cars... I would look for a pack of cigarettes. And then that escalated into breaking into homes. Before it was all said and done I had served 21 years in the federal penitentiary system." 
Lee Chapelle, while serving time in the Joyceville Institution in 1992. He served more than 20 years for nearly 100 convictions before leaving his criminal past behind. (Submitted by Lee Chapelle)

Lee Chapelle has been convicted nearly a hundred times — for break and enter, theft and possession of firearms. Crime — and the punishment — became the life he knew. 

But Chapelle found a way to put his criminal past in the past.
Lee Chapelle has made a career as a prison consultant after he served his time. (Submitted by Lee Chapelle)

"I tried quite a bit through my 20s to change my life. It was one thing to want to change. It was another thing to actually [get] moving and making change. That was something that took me longer to figure out." But, he explains: "I believed I was meant to do more than time." 

For Chapelle, part of the key is talking about it. "I wear it very openly, I don't hide it. And I believe that inherently all people are good, and I believe we're capable of change."

In fact, he's made it his career as a prison consultant and a strong advocate for rehabilitation. He's concerned that as a culture, we're losing faith in rehabilitation but he's here to say it is possible.

This story originally aired on February 12, 2017. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Make it Right".

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