On a recent visit to a prison I met a man I’ll call “Tom.”
Tom’s past is typical of many stories I hear. He is a repeat, nonviolent drug offender. By day, on the outside, he was a truck driver, but he also sold drugs to supplement his income. When Tom went to prison again, his family, including three children, lost a breadwinner – and a father.
Tom entered a Prison Fellowship® pre-release program. The love of Jesus soon captured his heart, and Tom became a new creation. As he studied parenting in a life-skills class, he started reaching out to his children, including a young girl who loves to play chess. For the first time, Tom took an interest in her hobby. Now, they play chess matches by correspondence. Tom sends her a move by mail each day, and she sends one back.
Tom marvels at how, thanks to the love of God and truths from His Word, he has improved his parenting. “I have been a better dad in the last five months from inside jail than I have ever been in my kids’ lives, because of this program.”
By the grace of God, prison doesn’t have to be a dead-end. As the Gospel message is preached in word and deed by dedicated volunteers, a prison sentence can become a time of repentance, redemption, and restoration, setting off a new, hope-filled future for prisoners like Tom and their families.
The faithful support of friends like you allows Prison Fellowship Ministries to counter the despair in our prison system, and bring the Good News of Jesus to people and families affected by crime, and the communities that surround them. Will you join this important effort with us? It’s your move!
With another Tax Day recently passed, Americans are once again reminded of the monetary costs needed to maintain an ordered society. We are also reminded that not all of the money collected for this purpose is used as effectively or as efficiently as it could be.
This is definitely true in the case of corrections in the United States.
In a recent editorial for the Huffington Post, Prison Fellowship Ministries President and CEO Jim Liske examines the huge amounts of dollars spent on incarceration in this country (over 50 billion in state expenditures, with another 6 billion in federal money), looks at the effectiveness of that spending, and asks the question, “Can’t we, as a civilized society, find a better use of tax dollars?”
Spending money on corrections is unavoidable; there will always be people who need to be locked up for the safety of the entire community. But the current situation in our country is extreme and unprecedented in our history. With 2.3 million people behind bars, we have become the world’s largest jailer, at an ever-growing, unsustainable financial cost. In California, for example, corrections spending grew at four times the rate of general fund spending between 1980 and 2010. California’s situation reflects national trends – across the board, we’ve been determined to keep “bad” people out of our backyards by locking them up for longer periods. But the tough on crime argument has a blind side. We haven’t bothered asking ourselves how prisoners will be rehabilitated and re-integrated into society when they come back. As a result, the return on taxpayers’ investment has been poor. Two-thirds of the approximately 700,000 prisoners released each year will be re-arrested within three years. That means more crimes – and more victims.
The answer, Liske proposes, is to invest in restorative justice programs for non-violent offenders, to take steps to strengthen families, and to develop preventative measures designed to keep at-risk individuals from becoming criminals in the first place. The result will not only be measurable in tax dollars saved, but also in safer communities and transformed lives.
To read the full editorial, click here.
Prisons can be places of darkness, where despair festers and grows. Hopelessness spreads as prisoners spend unproductive years behind bars, and many return to society only to fall right back into their old, detrimental lifestyle. Void of self-worth, abandoned by their families, and trapped by their pasts, some prisoners feel they have nothing to live for anymore.
If we want prisons to instead become places of rehabilitation that release restored people back into the community, then something – or someone – must break through the darkness to turn brokenness into hopefulness. This is why Prison Fellowship has been taking the Good News of God’s redeeming love into prisons since 1976.
The message of our Savior’s power is just as applicable within the prison walls as it is in our communities. Everyone needs the grace of God in our lives, whether we know it or not. As prisoners hear that they can start over – forgiven by God – hope flourishes and joy spreads through the prison. The chance of a new life restores their hearts and establishes their purpose in Christ; it gives them something to live for.
Last Easter, Prison Fellowship Ministries® President and CEO, Jim Liske, visited the Central Florida Reception, a large prison camp with different wings for prisoners who need hospice care or are too young to be housed with the general population.
In the chapel, Jim preached about Timothy, who grew up without a father, and told the young men, “No one is disqualified from God’s grace.”
Jim spent some time with men in the prison’s infirmary, where seriously injured and terminally ill prisoners serve out their sentences. One prisoner named Michael wore a helmet to prevent further injury to his brain. Weighed down by unthinkable guilt, he was serving 40 years for a drunk driving accident that killed his best friend.
Michael broke down in tears at Jim’s message of grace. “I’m the one who should be dead,” he cried.
Jim explained that the Lord had a purpose for keeping him alive, and that through God’s sacrifice of His Son, Michael could have the life-changing gift of forgiveness.
What an amazing discovery: Michael heard the Gospel message and realized God still loved him despite his past!
“If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?”
This is the question a photography team sent to hundreds of prisoners in federal penitentiaries all around the country. The prisoners who received the question have two things in common; they are all originally from the D.C. area and were all convicted of crimes when they were juveniles.
Upon receiving answers from prisoners across the U.S., students from Duke Ellington School of the Arts and George Mason University traveled around D.C. photographing the locations the prisoners requested. Then they mailed the photographs to each prisoner as a way to help them “bridge the distance” between their cells and their homes.
“The project begins with an idea, that becomes a photograph, that when enlarged, creates new social models that blur art, education, and activism,” the project’s website reads.
Locals to the D.C. area can view these photos and letters printed on 12-by-9-foot banners on the Fairfax, Va., campus of George Mason University through April 21, 2014.
Below is one of the photographs and corresponding request letters. To see more “Windows From Prison,” please visit the exhibit website.
A prisoner I’ll call Jared is getting ready to be one of the first graduates of a new Prison Fellowship pre-release unit. This is his third time behind bars. He has spent most of his life as a drug dealer and a petty thief, governed by that troublesome four-letter word: self.
Jared admits that he only started the Prison Fellowship classes to ‘game the system.’ He wanted to have something positive on his prison record and to get out of his cell for the day. If he could convince prison officials that he was changing, he might even get out of prison early. But it was all another scheme.
That something unexpected started to happen. As Jared studied the Bible and received the love of Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers, he became interested in Jesus. Finally, he gave his heart to Him! Now, Jared is a changed man. He has a new vision for his life, a vision that has nothing to do with his old routine of hustling on the streets.
Through lessons on money management, parenting, anger management, and life planning – all based in the Bible – Jared says he feels, “more ready to go home and change [his] life” than ever before. Over and over again, he told me, “I have hope.” That’s a four-letter word we need to hear more of behind bars!
The love of God changes hearts and produces hope – the joyous expectation of God’s good gifts – where none existed before. How will we respond to that love? Will we let it shine through us for all to see? Learn how today at prisonfellowship.org.
Hank Green, half of the of the popular “Vlogbrothers” video blog team, was recently asked by a viewer, “If you could do a high-quality animated video about any issue in the world, what would you choose?” Green’s response? “I went with incarceration in America, because it is messed up.”
Cue the video.
What advice would you give to a younger you? If you could give yourself a warning, or point a juvenile version of you in a particular direction, what would you say? Would it make a difference?
The question became painfully real to Trent Bell, an architectural photographer in Maine, when a longtime family friend was convicted of a crime and sentenced to over 30 years in prison. He wondered what his friend would have told himself if he had the opportunity. He also wondered what stories other inmates would want to tell their former selves.
These questions were the impetus for “Reflect: Convicts’ Letters to Their Younger Selves,” a photo project featuring portraits of prisoners of the Maine State Prison set on a backdrop of their own, handwritten notes to their adolescent versions.
The stark portraits of the inmates in prison-issued uniforms effectively reveal the consequences of advice not taken, of poor moral choices, and of poorer acquaintances made. The words penned are as honest and touching as they are haunting, and are spoken with a wisdom that only comes from lessons learned the hard way.
One of the cruelest facts in criminal justice is that more than 40 percent of ex-prisoners end up being sent back to prison within three years of their release. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right guidance before and after they complete their sentences, former prisoners like Duane can build successful lives on the outside.
As the bullets whizzed by, Duane felt his blood run cold. That should have been enough to put him on the straight and narrow, Duane says, but it wasn’t. The lure of life in the fast lane was too strong.
Urban streets have no mercy. But God did.
Duane says, “He protected me over and over.”
Finally, two years after the night that he almost died, Duane realized that his life was headed nowhere, and he gave his heart to Jesus Christ.
In this special Easter edition of the Frontlines video series, Prison Fellowship Ministries President and CEO Jim Liske recounts his recent visit to teach at a church where an inmate choir led the congregation in worship, sharing a beautiful picture of the unity of God’s Kingdom inside and outside prison walls. Hear how lives and hearts are changed through the message of the Resurrection, and hear how you can be a part of Prison Fellowship’s ministry behind bars this coming Easter.