Danny Ludeman is the epitome of financial success. As head of First Union Securities in the late 1990s, Ludeman moved the firm into the top three brokerages in the world. By 2014, as CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors, he was responsible for over $1 trillion in client assets, overseeing over 15,000 financial advisors. “He’s the James Brown of the securities industry,” as one of his largest clients referred to him, “the hardest-working man in show business.”
But then, Ludeman did something unexpected. At the age of 56, he resigned his post at Wells Fargo, explaining, ” I feel very much called by God to help other people.” He began taking seminary classes, and considered running for office. And it was during this time that he became aware of the overwhelming numbers of incarcerated men and women in the United States, and the high rates in which they returned to prison.
Now, Ludeman is taking tangible steps toward reducing recidivism. In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he describes his efforts in creating the Concordance Initiative, which is working to equip newly released prisoners to be productive members of their communities. The initiative will address some of the major hurdles these men and women face—things like affordable housing, employment, addiction, and mental health.
“This isn’t about babying people,” Ludeman says. “This is about providing a safety net where you can address those things that have been identified as the major contributors to why people go back.”
Albert has an amazing story.
The day after he was released from prison, Prison Fellowship’s community reentry team in Antelope Valley, California, assisted with his placement in a transitional home. Albert started volunteering to do odd jobs around the home to keep himself busy during the times he was not out looking for work.
The community reentry team connected Albert with Paving the Way, one of Prison Fellowship’s reentry partners that helps former prisoners in their search for employment. Albert showed up to Paving the Way faithfully every day, always dressed for success as Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers had taught him in his pre-release program at the California Institution for Men. He worked diligently with Paving the Way staff to submit his resume for every employment opportunity available, whether he qualified or not.
“Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” – Psalm 80:19
To restore something, in a spiritual sense, is to return it to the state God intended for it. God created men and women in His image and gave us the privilege of loving Him and one another. He has called us to glorify Him and serve those around us, so that we can live in perfect community with Him and one another.
We’ve all chosen to reject God’s purpose and plan for our lives. Some of us have chosen to do so in such a manner that we have landed in prison. Those of us who have, by grace, repented of our wrongs, have done so with the help of people who have guided and cared for us on our own paths to restoration.
Now we are called to pay it forward. We must, through God’s power and grace, shine a light on Jesus’ road to restoration for those affected by crime and incarceration. If we don’t, we will have hoarded the Gospel. If we refuse, men and women will remain far from God. We must not allow that.
You can play a vital part in the restoration of all those affected by crime and incarceration, returning them to the joy, peace, and wholeness God intends. Learn how at www.prisonfellowship.org. Men and women behind bars and their families are counting on us
This summer, Americans for Tax Reform hosted a policy primer on civil asset forfeiture. The event featured two panels with speakers from the Coalition for Public Safety, Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute, Institute for Justice, American Conservative Union, and more.
Several of the speakers on the first panel described civil asset forfeiture as legal stealing. Law enforcement can take a person’s property if they suspect the person is involved in criminal activity, they explained. The person may not ever be arrested for the “criminal activity,” let alone convicted.
These laws have been around for over a century but gained newfound popularity in the 1980s when the “war on drugs” ramped up. The primary goal was to deprive people believed to be involved in crime from the earnings they would receive from illegal activity. However, usage of civil asset forfeiture has expanded in recent years well beyond the original objective.
Under some of the current laws, property can be seized without any probable cause. Unlike due process for an individual, a person must prove that their property is innocent. Even after the individual is deemed innocent, it is an uphill battle for them to retrieve their possessions.
In the midst of the several controversial 5-4 decisions released by the Supreme Court in the final week of June, one decision stood out—largely due to the near unanimity of the verdict.
Johnson v. United States, decided on June 26th, 2015, questioned whether certain parts of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) were too vague, violating the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Eight of the nine justices agreed that they were, finding those parts unconstitutional.
The court’s decision is a victory for restorative justice, ensuring just process and predictability in sentencing based on the case facts rather than judicial hypotheticals.
In 1993, a teenager named Oshea Israel shot and killed 20-year-old Laramiun Byrd at a party both were attending in Minneapolis. Israel was sentenced to 25 years behind bars for second-degree murder, while the mother of the victim was sentenced to life without her only child.
As Byrd’s mother, Mary Johnson, looked at her son’s killer in the courtroom, she struggled with feelings of anger and resentment. However, Johnson’s faith compelled her to forgive, so she told the young man that she forgave him, even as she struggled with the bitterness inside.
Still, the anger failed to subside. After many years of fighting her emotions, Johnson made the fateful decision to reach out to Israel, arranging a meeting at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater.
When he was 10 months old, Hayden was living with his mom, a meth addict, in a drug house. Child Protective Services found him and took him away. Hayden’s father was in prison at the time. In fact he’d been in and out of prison for nine years. So Donna, Hayden’s grandmother, gained permanent custody of him when he was 2 years old.
“Hayden has abandonment issues,” Donna says. “He sees a psychiatrist once a week and a family support specialist takes him to the park.”
Donna worked hard so Hayden could grow up in a stable home. But the little boy’s life suffered a severe blow when his dad was taken back to prison four years ago.
“When his daddy was taken away in a squad car, Hayden stood by the front door and cried for half an hour,” Donna says. She couldn’t get him away from the front door. “He was devastated. It broke my heart.”
What can soothe the heart of a 5-year-old boy who watched his father get taken away to prison?
In a major criminal justice reform speech this week, President Obama brought attention to the steep rise in America’s prison population over the last few decades—and its collateral consequences for prisoners’ children.
“Around one million fathers are behind bars,” the president said. “Around one in nine African-American kids has a parent in prison. What is that doing to our communities? What’s that doing to our children? Our nation is being robbed of men and women who could … be more actively involved in their children’s lives …”
As he pointed out, incarceration is a weighty problem with serious consequences, and we will need to address it in the public square and in every branch of government for a long time to come. But there’s also some really good news right now. This summer, hundreds of thousands of incarcerated parents are signing their children up to receive a Christmas gift and the Gospel through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Christmas program.
These children won’t just receive a wrapped present—with help from thousands of volunteers, they’ll get a moment of much-needed connection with an absent parent and the message of the Heavenly Father’s love for them. For many, it’s life-changing.
Will you help? As parents sign their children up for Angel Tree, we’re recruiting thousands of churches and organization from every state to embody God’s love for prisoners and their families. To learn more and sign up, visit angeltree.org or call 1-800-55-ANGEL
For all the contentious, divisive issues that have recently dominated national headlines, there is one policy issue that continues to receive broad, bipartisan support—the need for meaningful sentencing and corrections reforms in the United States. And with new efforts by President Obama to highlight the need for changes, the time may be right for a significant transformation in how we view prisons and the men and women inside them.
This week, President Obama took three very public steps to draw attention to the issues surrounding public corrections. On Monday, the White House announced the commutation of the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders. (Among those whose sentences were commuted was Katrina Smith, mother of Denver Bronco wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Bekah Stratton’s article on Thomas and Smith is available here.) For his presidency, has commuted almost 90 sentences, and offered full pardons for another 64 prisoners.
On Tuesday, in an address to the annual convention of the NAACP, the president provided more details about the types of reforms he would like to see enacted. These proposed reforms included reducing prison overcrowding via sentencing alternatives to incarceration, eliminating mandatory minimums while increasing judicial discretion, reducing use of solitary confinement, eliminating prison rape, and enabling former prisoners the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families free from unnecessary hurdles that effectively extend the prisoner’s sentence far beyond the time they served behind bars. All of these proposals are matters which Prison Fellowship has supported through the work of our Justice Fellowship program.
It’s altogether too easy for those of us with little or no connection to prison to dismiss and ignore the men and women behind bars. Content to live our own lives, we are quick to conclude that the incarcerated “got what they had coming to them,” and to write them off as inconsequential.
For author Caryn Rivadeneira, those perceptions began to change when she visited the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Before her visit, Rivadeneira had opposed the death penalty, but was content to take a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to incarceration. Having the chance to interact with the men in Angola changed that.
“Seeing prison life firsthand and befriending inmates forced me to realize how a heart that grieves at capital punishment ought also to grieve for lives spent forgotten behind bars, too,” Rivadeneira says in an article for the “her.meneutics” blog on the Christianity Today website. “My time with the men locked up in Louisiana deepened my understanding of many things. Grace, redemption, certainly. But the word that bubbles up most is—of all things—humanity. Specifically, the way each of our humanity reflects God, the face of our Savior.”
By talking with several prisoners, Rivadeneira was reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew, telling them that when they visited those in prison, they were visiting Him.