As the newly appointed executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Rick Raemisch spent the night of Jan. 23 in solitary confinement at a state penitentiary.
Why? Because upon appointment, Gov. John Hickenlooper set before Raemisch three goals:
- Limit or eliminate the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners
- Address the needs of those who have been in solitary for long periods of time
- Reduce the number of prisoners released directly from solitary back into their communities
While Colorado prisoners who are put in solitary spend an average of 23 months there, Raemisch’s 20 hours spent alone in a cell provided him with a small glimpse of what these prisoners’ needs may be.
In a 7-foot-by-13-foot room where no personal property was allowed, he listened to distant conversations and many other noises that left him feeling “paranoid.” He lost track of time as he stared at the ” tiny grooves made by inmates who’d chipped away at the cell as the cell chipped away at them.” He was awakened many times during the night by officers checking the security of his cell door and doing routine prisoner counts. He writes, “As executive director, I praise the dedication, but as someone trying to sleep and rest my mind — forget it.”
Raemisch left his cell with a raised sense of urgency toward his three goals.
The last time Leticia Chavez was arrested, a female officer at the jail shared a dream she’d had that morning.
“I saw you dead in a ditch,” Leticia recalls the officer’s words. “So I got up and prayed for you. And here you are, 15 minutes before my shift is over.”
“I realized that dream was me,” Leticia says. “I had been hanging out with this guy named Big Red. Later the police came and investigated me in jail. He was suspected of killing a woman they had found in a ditch.”
If Leticia hadn’t been arrested, she might have ended up in that woman’s place. She believes God saved her life that day.
The world moves fast, doesn’t it? We’re always making another to-do list, reading another best-selling leadership book, and doing more. We buy things that promise to make us faster and more efficient – things that will let us be in a business meeting and at the dinner table at the same time. The busier and more productive we have been on any given day, the better we feel about ourselves – even if all that activity leaves us feeling exhausted. But it’s never enough, is it?
If you’re feeling tired, I’ve got good news: Jesus, who said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” did not come to give us a checklist of religious programs and practices. Rather, the daily Christian life is an invitation to be “in” Christ, as a fish is in water. It’s not about doing more, but about experiencing His fullness in all that we do as we become more like Him.
Prisoners have an opportunity to experience this in a unique way. While serving their time, they don’t have an opportunity to “do” much that the world would consider significant. But God’s presence and promises shine all the more brightly when compared to the loneliness and darkness of their surroundings.
Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers come alongside prisoners to help them know Christ and remain “in” Him while they are behind bars and after they return to the community. Is He prompting you to journey with us and these precious men and women – not as one more thing to do, but as an opportunity to encounter Jesus in our neighbors? Learn more at www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved.
What do concepts like “freedom” and “liberty” mean to those behind bars? In this Black History Month edition of the Frontlines video series, hear answers to these questions directly from prisoners. Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske reflects on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., and asks, “What does it mean for us to truly pursue freedom and liberty – righteousness for all?”
John Sims is an inmate at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo County, serving a 23-year sentence for first-degree burglary. During his time in the medium security facility, Sims has struggled with depression and hopelessness at the thought of the long years still to be served there.
But there was hope to be found inside those prison walls. With the help of Prisoners to Pastors, a joint project of Prison Fellowship and World Impact, John was introduced to a God who had a plan for his life.
“When God found me, I was suicidal,” Sims tells the San Luis Obispo Tribune. “The years ahead of me were daunting, but not anymore.”
Just 445 words long, Paul’s shortest New Testament letter is to a man named Philemon, a well-to-do merchant in the garrison town of Colosse, who was also a leader in the Christian church there. He was a businessman, a family man, and someone respected among the community of believers.
But Paul challenges Philemon to take his faith a step farther, to love not just the people who are like him, but to love a person he might not have considered loveable – his runaway slave named Onesimus, a prisoner with no social importance, who had come to know Christ while incarcerated in Rome. Paul asserts that Christ’s love and grace should impel Philemon to welcome this redeemed ex-prisoner back as a guest, a brother, and an equal.
Friend, Christ’s call is the same for His people today! He is inviting us to welcome back the redeemed ex-prisoner – not as a second-class citizen, but as a brother or sister of incalculable worth in the Lord’s sight – just as God welcomed each of us when we did not deserve His grace. Welcoming ex-prisoners, and offering them grace, belonging, and accountability within Christian community, is a vital expression of the Gospel in our day, especially when at least one out of every 37 adults has spent time in prison. Today is the day to go a step farther than we’ve gone in the past!
Through the bridge church program, Prison Fellowship® offers congregations practical training and guidance on how to go about fulfilling the commission given to Philemon and to all of Christ’s Body. To learn more, click here.
Ronnie Kirkconnell wears long sleeves to cover the tattooed forearms that hint at his past, but he’s not afraid to bare the love of God that’s inked upon his heart.
Customers receive more than average service when they walk into Stamp Therapy in Kentwood, Michigan. With a Bible on the counter and a Jesus fish hanging in the window, prayer pervades the stamp shop owned by Ronnie’s wife, Jan.
“Right there, on the floor, we bring up God. We have some wounded ladies coming in and we stop right there and pray,” says Ronnie, who works in the shop with Jan.
Every year, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program provides children of inmates presents on behalf of their incarcerated parents. These gifts not only give kids something to open on Christmas morning, they transform lives by introducing families to the greatest Christmas gift of all.
Here are just a few letters of thanks from Angel Tree kids and their parents. To those of you who participated in the Angel Tree program this Christmas – thank you! You helped to convey the true message of Christmas to these families. (Click to enlarge.)
So many of the letters we get from prisoners start out the same: “I hope someone reads this …,” “I don’t have anyone left out there …,” or “I haven’t received a visit or a letter in years. I’m hoping you will help me know God …”
But the letter from Joe, a long-time prisoner in Virginia, was different. “[Prison Fellowship founder Chuck] Colson’s life and prison ministry impacted my life in such a way that it’s hard to describe,” he wrote. “I was once a recluse and would not even as much as talk to anyone. I was a loner. I was always angry at people for the mere facts that they seem to look down upon me for being a prisoner. So I had this attitude of well, if they don’t care about me, I sure … don’t care about them.”
Joe went on surrounded by relational walls until the day Prison Fellowship connected him with volunteers who started writing to him regularly.
“I never in my entire life dreamed that there could be such loving people out there in the free world,” Joe’s letter continued. “God works in many ways. My life has changed for the better. I don’t have no animosity in my life for no one anymore. Nothing but love for all of humanity. That’s how Mr. Chuck Colson’s life and ministry changed my life.”
Friend, you and I are God’s valentines, and He sends us out to the lost, the unloved, and the despairing – including prisoners like Joe – to represent His true, unconditional love. That love changes everything. Learn how you can help spread the message of God’s love on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year at www.prisonfellowship.org.
David Hamm sadly reflects, “The invention of the TV dinner tray for eating in front of the television instead of at the dinner table began a downfall for my family.”
When David was 12, he stopped attending Sunday school, church, and vacation Bible school, which he had previously loved.
“My dad worked 36 years for the post office and retired as postmaster. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and my brother, a year older, was already getting into alcohol and drugs,” he recalls. “My younger sister and I would soon follow.”
David was stealing beer at age 13 and consuming a six-pack every evening. Bragging about it at school was a bad idea, and the police arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of theft. David didn’t get the message and was soon smoking marijuana and moving into more serious drug use.
“If I could get high on it, I was taking it or smoking it,” he remembers.
One step ahead of the law after a botched armed robbery, David thought he could straighten himself out in the military, so he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.