This is the second part of a three-part series called “Second Chances,” where CBS 42’s David Lamb speaks with people who served time in prison and have since been freed.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — After nearly 20 years behind bars, Mona Rae Lewis is making the most of life as a free woman, her life serving as a reminder that what you’ve done is not who you are.

Today, Lewis is full of hope and aspirations but her hopeful outlook was born out of heartache and struggle. In 2019, Lewis was released from prison after serving 16 years in prison for her role in a homicide, paying a steep price for giving in to peer pressure.

“I think like back in the day, different friends and things of that nature, you’re not really being a leader,” Lewis said. “You’re kind of following, you’re not really using your own head, you’ve got it and all five of your common senses, but you’re not using it like you really should. In other words, you’ve got your own mind, you know what’s right, you know what’s wrong. You have to use those thoughts and I don’t think I was at all.”

While in prison, Lewis bottomed out, but chose not to stay there.

“It was very hard,” she said. “Actually, like I say, I used to cry a lot, but as time went by, I got better. I stayed prayerful. I always stayed in my Bible.”

And her faith pulled her through and continues to do so today as she navigates life as a former prisoner.

“I was hired but after getting up in there, after doing a little Sneaky Pete check, they make a rain check and say ‘bye,'” she said.

Like many people who have navigated life after prison, Lewis struggled to find those willing to give her a second chance. That’s when Lorenzo Brown became both her ally and friend. Brown heads up Is Able Ministries and was contacted about helping Lewis find her way.

“Initially, she had gotten hired and had been working there for over a month,” Brown said. “And I don’t know why they didn’t run a background check prior to hiring her, but when they got the background check back and they discovered that she had been incarcerated, they released her.”

And Lewis handled her test of faith head on and learned a valuable life lesson as well.

“Everybody don’t want to give you a second chance, that’s why you have to stay determined,” she said. “If you stay determined and do the things that you should do, you will make it.”

That determination has paid off for Lewis, who now has a steady job and is building a life, working through regret and growing in gratitude.

“Think about it. 16 years? Of course, I regret that,” she said. I just thank God for giving me another chance.”

And with that second chance, Lewis wants the world to know that she’s just getting started.

“I’m not finished yet,” she said. “I want to get in higher places in life, put it that way.”