When Fernando arrived in prison, he felt his life was beyond repair.
He had grown up on the northwest side of Houston, selling drugs and committing robberies. At 17, he was convicted of aggravated robbery and began his 15 years in prison.
Behind bars, Fernando continued to run with the reckless crowd, drinking and getting into trouble.
But then Fernando had the opportunity to join Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an intensive faith-based reentry program at the Carol Vance Unit in Houston, Texas. The program staff and volunteers introduced Fernando to his Heavenly Father, and to a group of young men who were living for the Lord. These men showed Fernando that he could still have fun while honoring God.
The classes he took brought him closer to God and to his family, and he began to sense peace in his heart. Through your support, God used Prison Fellowship’s reentry program to instill in him core values, like responsibility and accountability, which have helped him live a successful life on the outside.
Upon release in 2008, Fernando chose to relocate to Fort Worth—where other program alumni live—rather than return to the temptations of his old lifestyle in Houston.
Fernando is now married with a three-year old son and manages four resort hotels. He is a part of a local church body and returns to the unit often to share his story with incarcerated men.
“The program works,” he tells them.
A recent study of the reentry program in Minnesota revealed that prisoner participation decreases the risk of re-incarceration by 26 to 40 percent.
Thanks to Prison Fellowship partners, men and women like Fernando are experiencing bright futures!
Many friends like you help us with Angel Tree year after year, whether it’s by praying, giving financially, wrapping a gift, or working at a Christmas party. This past Christmas, you helped us match 330,663 children with volunteers who delivered gifts, the Gospel, and personal messages from moms and dads behind bars.
But have you ever wondered whether Angel Tree truly matters? Does its impact continue once the wrapping paper has been thrown away, or the gift is worn out and forgotten?
Here’s just one story from an Angel Tree church coordinator, whose testimony reminds us why Angel Tree matters throughout the year, and often for all eternity:
We have an [Angel Tree] family, who had their inmate step-father and father die in prison last year. We, as a church, have continued to walk alongside the mother, Jennifer, and her kids. She has been attending our church for a few years and was able to lead her inmate husband to the Lord before he passed away. This year is the first time she has been able to participate with the program and she made deliveries. She was so elated to help and so blessed to share with other families. She wants to do it again next year.
Angel Tree supporters didn’t just give Jennifer’s children a gift at Christmas; they helped connect Jennifer and her family with a caring church community that walks beside them all year long, in joy and pain, and helps draw them closer to the God who is restoring their lives. What gift could matter more?
Learn more about the continuing impact of Angel Tree at www.angeltree.org.
Restorative justice works. Its principles are effective in facilitating individual change and impeding the cycle of crime whenever they are applied. However, it is helpful to understand what root issue restorative justice really helps to treat and why it’s a better response to harm in our society. But understanding these things becomes impossible without the aid of biblical truth.
Identifying the Root Cause
Certain Chicago schools are implementing a restorative justice approach as part of the city’s Embrace Restorative Justice in Schools Collaborative, and it’s working, even as those pushing the approach place it in a secular framework. In a recent Huffington Post article, author Nancy Michaels describes the benefits of a restorative justice response to an inner-city shooting involving teenagers, and she speculates on the reasons for teen violence.
“The ongoing violence among our youth leaves us to question why this happens,” she writes. “Do the reasons lie in law enforcement, education, economics, parenting, or elsewhere? Or does the structural violence built into deeply racist systems lead ’hurt people to hurt people?’”
While this list of potential reasons may identify proximate causes to individual acts of violence, or even deeper influencers several places removed, it does not identify the root problem.
Through the years, one of the things that has impressed me most has been the depth of commitment I see in those serving with Prison Fellowship. It is breathtaking to see the lengths followers of Christ will go to serve Him. We got a fresh reminder of this recently in Spokane.
Jimmy is a volunteer on the Spokane Community Reentry Team. He has a strong desire to serve Christ, and as a former prisoner he knows well the importance of having a solid ministry to come alongside Christian prisoners returning to the community.
Jimmy is actually just getting on his feet himself. He has not found a regular job yet, as his liver is failing and he is on supplementary security income. He can no longer do manual labor. Consequently, his finances are very tight. He lives in a rural area and has had to move several times. He has no transportation of his own, so he must walk, take public transportation, or hitchhike to his destinations.
When Jimmy contacted us to become a Prison Fellowship volunteer, he learned of our online volunteer training. He was thrilled to take it. But because he did not own a computer, he walked six and a half miles to the Spokane County Library. When he found out there was a computer usage limit of 90 minutes, Jimmy made the five-mile trek to the Spokane City Library to finish the training.
Jimmy repeated this process until he completed the training and became a certified Prison Fellowship volunteer.
When asked about his long walks, Jimmy recalls that he was frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t hitch a ride. His feet hurt, and he was thirsty. Yet he remembers thinking about how God was opening an opportunity for him to serve his Lord.
“He was providing the opportunity. My job was to get ‘er done!’ I had to exert the physical effort to make it happen. Whatever the cost … Christ died for me; can I not endure a little discomfort and stress for Him?” says Jimmy.
Is it any wonder God uses men and women like Jimmy so mightily?
Mark Hubbell is a Prison Fellowship area director for the Northwest region.
“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” – Acts 12:5 (NIV)
When Peter was thrown into prison at the order of King Herod, there was nothing his friends could do for him. They had no way to reach him—except to pray with their whole hearts. Their prayers were a game-changer. Though Peter was chained between two trained guards, an angel came in, took off his chains, and led him out the gate.
Ministering to men and women behind bars can feel just as impossible as rescuing Peter from the Roman guards. How can we make the freedom of Christ seem relevant to someone stuck in a small cell 23 hours a day? How can the message of redemption and restoration enter a heart as hard as concrete? How do we reach those who, from a human perspective, are unreachable?
The answer is the same for us as it was for the early followers of Jesus. We start by praying, continually and with our whole hearts, for all those affected by the cycle of crime and incarceration. We trust the Holy Spirit to bring about the spiritual freedom of men and women created in the image of God. And miracles follow.
Did you know that, in addition to giving and volunteering, you can support Prison Fellowship as a part of our prayer team? We are excited to offer you the opportunity to join with a community of prayer warriors all across the country who are praying for prisoners, their families, and the many ongoing events and activities that affect their lives. Learn more today at http://www.prisonfellowship.org/prayerteam/.
There are many challenges facing men and women as they leave prison and return to their communities. For some, there is the difficulty of simply finding a place to live. For others, there is the danger of falling into old habits and renewing old acquaintances. And for many, the lack of any kind of mentoring or support system can result into a return to criminal behavior.
But perhaps the the biggest hurdle for most ex-prisoners is the challenge to find long-term employment. Without it, lodging is hard to obtain, and the pressure increases to use illegal means of support.
A recent story in the New York Times looks at some of the underlying reasons why it is so hard for former prisoners to procure jobs. A primary reason has to do with the background checks being performed by potential employers.
To be sure, employers can and should practice due diligence when hiring workers. To not do so, considering all the information that is readily available is negligent at best, and can open the employer to legal action should the new hire return to his or her criminal ways. But relying on these background checks alone can be highly prejudicial, and can serve to further a destructive cycle of behavior of which the potential hire is struggling to leave.
Audrey Fay isn’t sure what prevented her from committing suicide.
“I had traveled a long, lonely road,” she remembers.
Trying to hide the anger and pain she felt, she focused on pleasing the people around her. She did everything that was asked of her, hoping others’ approval would fill the emptiness inside.
“Instead,” she says, “it almost drove me off a cliff.”
Audrey began embezzling money from her employer so that she could meet the expectations she felt from her family, co-workers, and friends. She lived a lie, trapped in the web of her own deceit. She became deeply depressed and thought about taking her own life. When she couldn’t take the strain anymore, she walked into her boss’ office and told him what she had done.
“They say the truth sets you free, and it does,” reflects Audrey, “but first I had to go prison.”
The word “arise” runs through Scripture like the repetitive chorus of a song.
When the people of Israel were waiting on the east side of the Jordan River, hesitating to enter the Promised Land, their leaders encouraged them, “Arise … for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good” (Judges 18:9).
When Jesus healed a paralytic, he told him, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (Matthew 9:6). Even when confronted with people who had died, he raised them with the command: “Arise!”
When the Prodigal Son from Jesus’ parable had lost all hope, he finally decided, “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:8).
At this time of year, the theme of “arise” is evident in the creation, as well. Flowers start to poke through the cold ground. Spring takes hold. Everything God has made arises. It’s all a joyful reflection of the most awesome “arising” of all—Jesus’ victory over the grave when God raised Him from death.
Will you help me carry the important Easter message—God’s call to “arise!”—into prisons and jails at Easter and throughout the year? Spreading the Good News to prisoners, families, and all those affected by the cycle of crime, is at the core of Prison Fellowship’s mission and vision. For more information on how you can be a part, please visit the evangelism section of our website.
Joe has not been convicted of a crime. He’s innocent, in fact, but he’s still in jail. He’s been sitting there for over two months now, waiting to appear before a judge, waiting for the chance to prove his innocence, but his trial date is nowhere in sight, and he doesn’t have the money to post bond.
Joe is in limbo—pretrial limbo—and he isn’t the only one. There are approximately 476,000 pretrial detainees in the United States. While the Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, there is no definitive time limit set for pretrial detention, and many people waive that right in hopes of getting a better plea bargain. The time an individual spends in detention prior to trial varies by jurisdiction from weeks to months (the median wait from arrest to adjudication for detained felony defendants is 68 days) but many are kept far longer, with some waiting years to have their day in court.
There are several reasons why followers of Christ should care about Joe and everyone else stuck in pretrial limbo.