Bastrop native Carlton Hollins is one of those individuals who changed his life for the better

There are approximately 25 million ex-felons in the U.S. and every year 100,000 new people are convicted of a felony , according to Sixty percent of the people released from prison return within three years, some even quicker.

Among the 40 percent who aren't reoffenders, many turn their lives around for the better and dredge through the stigma that follows them as a felon, struggling everyday to regain their dignity, while being denied opportunities such as employment.

Bastrop native Carlton Hollins is one of those individuals who changed his life for the better. He overcame the, “sins of the world,” and now spends his life serving God through his own church in Marshall, Texas, while also pursuing a doctorate of ministry degree.

Through the positive influences he received from two pastors [Reverend S. Charles Byrd and the Reverend Lee Edward Armstrong] who visited him while incarcerated at the Morehouse Parish Jail, Hollins turned his back on his unhealthy lifestyle and followed in the pastor's footsteps, becoming a pastor himself.

Hollins underwent a tragedy in his early life. At the age of six, his mother was murdered and his father, Timothy, lived in Crossett. He and his siblings moved in with his grandmother, the late Lillie Gates Ramey, who lived down the street from his family in Bastrop.

After growing up without a mother or father, Hollins admitted he was wild in his youth.

“I drank alcohol, smoked, used drugs and sold drugs,” he said. “When I was 18 or 19, I went to jail on a drug related charge. I stayed in jail for about six months.”

Hollins said during this time, the late Reverend S. Charles Byrd and the Reverend Lee Edward Armstrong delivered the word of God to him at the jail.

“They gave me a spiritual insight of the things of God,” he said. “After hearing them, I wanted to turn my life over to God.”

After Hollins was released from jail, he began studying the word of God with Reverends Byrd and Armstrong. Armstrong is the pastor of St. Mathews No. 1 Missionary Baptist Church in Mer Rouge. Hollins had dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and claimed “education wasn't important” to him. “After three years of studying God's word, I was accepted into the United Theological Seminary in Monroe for one year,” he said.

In 1997, he received a 100 percent scholarship while pasturing from the historic Wiley College.

“The Great Debaters,” he said. “Although I had no high school diploma, the college enrolled me and I started taking college classes. After the first semester, I was directed by the late Reverend Byrd to visit with Mr. Arthur Williams with the Mansfield Louisiana School Board.”

Hollins was given study material to prepare for his formal high school education.

“I passed and returned back to Wiley College,” he said.

Hollins went on to complete his undergraduate degree at Wiley College, where he graduated with his bachelors in history in 2002. He completed his master of divinity in 2009, concentration in Christian Education, at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga.

Hollins is currently pursuing his Doctorate of Ministry degree, concentration on church growth and evangelism, from the Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va.

He and his wife, Natasha, are currently living in Longview, Texas where he pastors New Mount Mariah Missionary Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas.