First-degree intentional homicide is a Class A felony which results in a sentence of life imprisonment if convicted. This is the charge Edward L. Hennings originally received twenty-four years ago. Unlike most charged with such a serious offence, however, Hennings has not only found freedom outside of a cell, he also escaped the lifestyle that got him there and is now a respected businessman, author, and sought after motivational speaker. His story is one for the books, and the 180 mindset shift Ed Hennings made is one all should lean in and take note of. Every story worth reading, however, has a rising action that leads to conflict and Hennings’ began in his teens.
At the age of 19 Hennings started selling drugs, sharing that while he was doing pretty good in school, he got impatient. The thought of having to wait four more years before he could graduate and begin making a stable income didn’t seem like an option at the time. “I got impatient. I’m from the urban community. I’ve seen this type of activity my whole entire life. I was strong enough at that time of my life not to indulge in it but at about 18 or 19 I was a young adult and finances were becoming a part of my life more than they ever were before…so I started selling drugs.” Hennings soon lived to regret this lack of patience.
Quick Reactions Can Create Life Long Consequences
Hennings’ new found pastime led to him quickly becoming the “go-to guy” in his circle. Family and friends came to him for everything. Whether they needed help financially, a ride, something to eat, or an ear to listen, Hennings made himself available to assist. “I was the go-to guy. And if there was some type of dispute between the guys, they would call me and I would step in, intervene and get it straightened out.”
The Milwaukee native had no idea that one day when he was just 24 years old, a call for help from his uncle would drastically change the trajectory of his life. His uncle had a dispute with some men in the neighborhood and they beat him up, so he came to his nephew for help. Hoping to diffuse the situation as he normally did, Hennings headed to talk to them.
“Normally you go and have a conversation and you talk about it, you shake hands and it’s over. But this particular time it was more hostile.” He recalled. Three men approached his uncle, one appeared to be reaching for a gun and Hennings’ next actions are some that would evoke remorse for decades to come.
“I thought he was reaching for a gun to shoot [my uncle] and so I pulled out a gun myself and I shot two times. I didn’t know the man was hit, but I know everybody started running and guys started coming out of yards. It was just total hostility and chaos. And it ended with me being arrested that night and I was charged for first degree intentional homicide.”
Finding Light at The End of a Long, Dark Tunnel
When everyone ran after the gun shots, Hennings’ victim ran and collapsed dead about a block away. “I never thought in a million years that I would be sitting in the court room listening to my victim’s loved ones say how bad of a person I was. Or listening to my mom and my grandma begging the judge not to put me away for life. That right there, really hit the core of my soul.”
Hennings’ mind began racing and he regretted not just his actions that night, but everything that led up to that point. “I should’ve just stayed in school.” I thought, “I should’ve did this” and “I should’ve did that”. So many things…all I was asking for and praying for was another chance. Another shot.” Hennings shared, replaying the events of that day. As he continued to pray for another chance, the jury came back and they found him guilty of a lesser offense – first degree reckless homicide, also known as manslaughter. “I had a right to defend, but I overdid it.” He explains. With this lesser charge against him, Hennings immediately knew that he had a little grace and a chance to make things right. “I really just understood that I had another chance coming.”
Hennings was sentenced to forty years altogether and spent twenty years in prison. While he understood that forty years was a long time, he was so grateful not to get the expected life sentence that he saw this as an opportunity to turn his life around and prepare for his second chance. “For a guy that was facing the rest of his life, I knew forty years was bad but I knew like okay, I get another chance. Not the next day or the next year, but I have some time.”
When You Get a Do-Over, Take It
Hennings was up for parole hearings after ten years of sentencing, however, it took another ten before he was able to go on parole. “I did twenty years of the forty. So I did half of my sentence in prison. With that being said, I spent that twenty years pushing myself every day. Every chance that I got to better myself, to become the best version of Ed that I could be… I spent twenty years doing that.”
While he’s a motivational speaker now, Hennings makes it clear that he didn’t start this once he came home four years ago. “It started while I was in prison”, he notes. “I was telling the guys in there, “Man, we need to change. We gotta push. We gotta go. We gotta better ourselves. We can’t end up like this. The last memories of us from our loved ones can’t be us being hauled away in handcuffs and that’s the last time they see us. We have to come back.”, Hennings remembers.
Not only did Hennings spend his 20 years uplifting his fellow inmates, he made it a point to take every course available to him, to read every book and to speak to students in youth awareness programs when the opportunity presented itself. He spoke to the kids with a hope that he could prevent them from ending up in a similar situation. These intentional steps, set him up for success when he was finally released.
“When I was in prison, I was on a mission to make change. I still live everyday thinking, this is my second chance, this is my shot. So, with me living with that mentality, I took a barber and cosmetology class back in 1998. I finished and got my barber and cosmetology license in 2001. Once I completed that I took an auto detailing class. Once I completed that I took a culinary class. I was acquiring as much knowledge through reading and through whatever was available to me to try and better myself.” Hennings had a chance to get a do-over and he took it.
From 20 Years in Prison to Sought After Business Man & Motivational Speaker
Seeing the success he was having as an inmate, Hennings knew it could be translated outside the cell as well. Sharing, “Once I saw that formula giving me success right in prison – like man, I’m cutting hair in the barber shop, and I’m speaking to the kids every Wednesday and Friday – this formula works for me.” Having taken the barber and cosmetology course, it allowed him to do his work release from prison in a barber shop. While he was only making $7.25 an hour cutting hair, he saw it as an opportunity to build up his clientele and learn the latest techniques before being released. “While I wasn’t making a whole lot of money, I was able to build clientele. I was able to sharpen my skillset, and I was able to build some comradery with the guys in the shop, which was all a plus for me.”
Hennings understands that as humans, we have the blessing to heal from past traumas and pain. After our healing from deaths, divorces and prison sentences, however, he finds that many forget what we’ve gone through and the lessons that we’ve learned. Hennings feels that because he had to deal with the pain for so long, he can’t forget.
“BEING I HAD TO SIT IN MY PAIN FOR TWENTY YEARS, IT KIND OF GOT ENGRAINED IN MY SOUL, SO WHEN I CAME HOME, I LOOKED AROUND ME AND SAW THAT MY DRIVE WAS DIFFERENT. MY GRIND WAS DIFFERENT THAN THE REST OF THE GUYS. AND THAT PAIN WAS ABLE TO STICK WITH ME. AND IT WAS ABLE TO BE MY FUEL…SO I WAS GOING FORWARD LIKE A BULL, BECAUSE THAT FUEL WAS LIKE ROCKET FUEL AND IT STILL IS.”
Hennings now has three main businesses. The first business he started was a barber shop with a beauty salon. The second business Hennings built was a trucking business, which is now up to a five truck fleet. The third business is a non-profit organization which involves him speaking, mentoring and coaching. From this, came his book The Answers. All of these businesses can be linked back to the moves he took while in prison. The intentional steps taken in an attempt to undo the damage caused in his life has led to Ed Hennings no longer being recognized as a murderer, but rather a sought-after business man and motivational speaker, proving that our past needn’t dictate our future.
Continue to Evolve
Hennings’ latest endeavour has spun from his barber and beauty salon business – a men’s grooming line with the first product being King Edward Beard Oil. Recalling the birth of the idea he shared, “I’ve been wearing a beard for the last five or six years. I’m known throughout my community as the guy with the beard. I’m in cosmetology and I help a lot of other guys grow their beards out so it was only natural for me to delve into the beard industry and get the men’s grooming thing popping off.”
The serial entrepreneur continues to evolve and gets that along the way there will be doubters that don’t believe that people can change, and in fact, he welcomes their criticisms, using it as fuel for him to push on and strive even harder for greatness. “When they [criticize] it helps me and I kind of gravitate towards it. I need to hear more of that to keep pushing. But I made those decisions and I made those choices so I have to live with it. I have to take the accountability and say, yea some people will not embrace everything you do so you have to have some thick skin and be able to take that gut shot and let it push you.”
For those who feel like they are at rock bottom, Hennings wants them to know that their response to their situation is everything and that there is indeed something positive at the other end.
“THE BACKEND OF ADVERSITY IS WISDOM. IT’S STRENGTH …IF YOU RESPOND PROPERLY, IT’S ALL IN YOUR RESPONSE. ADVERSITY IS PROMISED TO ALL OF US. EVERYBODY LOOKS AT THEIR SITUATION AS IF IT’S THE WORST OF ALL. MY ADVICE IS HAVE YOUR MOMENT TO CRY IF YOU NEED TO. HAVE YOUR MOMENT TO BE ANGRY IF YOU NEED TO. BUT TAKE ALL OF THAT EMOTION RIGHT THERE AND CHANNEL THAT AND RESPOND LIKE A CHAMPION, AND I PROMISE IT’LL TAKE YOU FURTHER THAN YOU EVER THOUGHT YOU COULD GO.”