After Bryan Lester works out at the Y, he feels like he can “tackle the world.” Four days a week, he’s swimming laps and using the rope machine—a routine that’s helping him get in shape for a knee and hip replacement. But Bryan’s story of transformation runs far deeper than achieving better physical health.
Bryan was living in a halfway house following a 12-year prison sentence when he decided to start working out. "I went to another gym to try and get something done. But, all of the machines were too hard on me. I missed the bus coming back one night, and I was late getting back to the halfway house by about 40 minutes."
The house's director told Bryan that he needed to find an alternate solution. "I said, 'Well I'm going to go down to the Y because they've got a swimming pool.' So that's what I did the very next day," Bryan says. "I didn't have a car at the time—I was on foot—so it took me about 20 minutes to walk down here."
Financially strapped and apprehensive about being judged for his past, Bryan shared his situation with the membership staff and heard a phrase that filled him with hope: “We’ll find a way to help you out.”
For Bryan, this sense of welcome went much further than just walking into a gym. "When you spend a lot of time in prison, you're beat up, broken, battered, and bruised. You don't know if society really wants you. That's a big thing in your mind. You've been downplayed for so long. [Being at the Y] makes me feel like I can rejoin society. They picked my confidence up."
Thanks to the Open Doors financial assistance program, Bryan gained access to the resources he needed to improve his health and, more importantly, a supportive community that he says has made him feel valued. "In prison, you go by a number and after awhile here...I was Bryan Lester again."
Miraculously, Bryan happened to start coming to the same YMCA where his cousin, Vona—whom he hadn't seen in 20 years—serves as the Chaplain. Connecting with his family again has been transformative for Bryan.
He recently went home to the Kentucky church he grew up in for a family funeral. "It’s probably been 40 years, maybe 45 years since I'd been in a church. It was really emotional. I went with my father and my oldest brother and it was just a really a great experience for me to be back in a church and be around all my family."