This is Shine Adams. He’s a social worker, jail volunteer, and a carpenter, too. Last year, Shine combined his love of wood working and his passion for helping others into a nonprofit business that’s given a dozen community members a second chance at a new future.
When one of his friends was released from prison, Shine got a glimpse at the hopelessness that former prisoners often feel as they seek out employment. So he put his life savings to work and started Sun Cedar, a workshop in his basement where he employs people who have had trouble getting work elsewhere because they are struggling with homelessness, addiction recovery, or criminal history. Using scraps of wood, Sun Cedar employees create tree-shaped air fresheners and other great-smelling cedar products.
By the time he was 15 years old, Arthur Medina was a runaway living on the streets in Texas. It wasn’t long before he turned to crime just to survive.
Art earned his living stealing cars and running them across the border. But when a carjacking attempt left someone dead, 17-year-old Art was sentenced to life in prison.
“I felt my life was over,” he says.
A fight with a fellow prisoner who had sexually assaulted him nearly killed his assailant, and earned Art another 119 years on his sentence—including 15 years in solitary confinement.
One day, a prosecutor came to visit him and challenged Arthur with a simple question: “Do you believe in God?”
“Yes, I do,” he responded.
“Then why don’t you get to know Him?” the prosecutor asked.
Art began reading his Bible, and soon found himself at a crossroads. “I had to decide if I wanted to continue down the path of destruction or the path of deliverance.” Art chose God’s way.
When Chris Ford heard his daughter screaming in the backyard, he immediately ran to help her. There he found the family’s pitbull viciously attacking 4-year-old Zaynah. Ford pulled the dog off his daughter, called 911, and then shot and killed the dog with a rifle.
Despite the fact that Ford’s quick actions may have saved his daughter’s life, he was arrested when police arrived on the scene. Ford was charged with animal cruelty, endangerment, and felony possession of a weapon by a prohibited person, among other charges.
In 2004, Ford was convicted for ID theft, which is a felony. Felons, by law, are not permitted to possess firearms. And despite Ford’s claims that he shot the dog in an attempt to protect his family, he is once again facing felony charges—this time for owning a rifle.
The Ford case raises a very important issue: is it just to saddle every man and woman convicted of a felony with the lifelong sentence of “prohibited person,” denying them the right to protect themselves and their families? Does it serve the best interest of society to indefinitely punish men and women who have committed crimes?
The world has watched events in Charleston, South Carolina, with awe—and for good reason. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, some of the victims’ loved ones have faced the shooter with forgiveness, prayer, and a heartfelt call to repentance. They have modeled the Gospel at the worst time in their lives.
The slain leaders of Emanuel AME Church must have been doing something very right before their lives were cut short. Long before disaster struck, they were laying the groundwork of a solid identity that hatred and violence would not be able to destroy. They were storing up tools in their community’s tool box, so they would be prepared to react in the face of the unthinkable.
From his reported statements, it seems that the shooter meant to sow division and discord. In Charleston, he failed; love is overcoming hatred. But elsewhere, the battle is raging. All over the country, prisons are empty of true community and full of division. Men and women behind bars are isolated, disconnected from their loved ones, and separated from God. They are in deep need of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.
With your help, Prison Fellowship is working every day to bring the Gospel to prisoners and build up the community of Christians behind prison walls. Men and women who love Jesus are becoming powerful leaders for the Kingdom in their facilities, reducing violence and modeling His peace. To learn how, visit www.prisonfellowship.org.
Our founder, Chuck Colson, was passionate to share the Gospel with men and women behind the walls of prisons. He never got over the way that God used his greatest humiliation—being sentenced to prison—to transform his life and thousands of others.
Chuck’s experience changed everything he believed about crime and punishment.
It helped many—including prisoners like Chip—change their thinking, too.
At 20, Chip was already deep into using and selling drugs. Then someone died as a result of his dealing. He’s been behind bars ever since.
“Here in prison,” Chip says, “your word and reputation are huge. If you don’t meet confrontation with violence, then you are considered weak.”
Early in his life sentence, when other prisoners “called him out,” Chip really wanted to fight. But as he was working up his courage, he chose instead to ask God to protect him.
When Chip went out to meet the men, he decided to provoke them. To get them to fight. To see if God really had answered his prayer. But nobody laid a hand on him. That’s when Chip really started to believe that God could change his heart. He hasn’t looked back.
In 2013, Angela Patton, director of a program named Camp Diva, appeared in a popular TED talk, discussing a father-daughter dance her organization had helped to set up for 16 prisoners and 18 girls in the city jail in Richmond, Virginia. The story and the images from inside the jail were simple and sweet, yet moving and profound. Girls were reunited with fathers some had barely known before, and dads were able to reassess their lives and look to the future. “I just gotta break this cycle I’m in,” one of the fathers says in a Washington Post article in a moment of personal reflection following the dance. “I’m just tired of it.”
The story was picked up by a number of news outlets, including the aforementioned Washington Post article, as well as a BreakPoint commentary by Eric Metaxas, and two separate posts to this blog (here and here).
Christian recording artist J. J. Heller recently became aware of the story, and was moved to write a song about the dance with her husband, Dave.
Reconciling and restoring families like the ones at the Richmond City Jail is a major part of Prison Fellowship’s ministry. Programs like Angel Tree seek to reconnect men and women behind bars to their children, providing gifts for their kids at Christmas, camping opportunities in the summer, and mentoring services year round. And in-prison reentry programs help to equip those preparing to leave prison to be good parents to their sons and daughters.
To find out how you can be a part of reuniting families, please visit our “Get Involved” page.
The following post originally appeared on the Huffington Post website, and appears here with permission.
Father’s Day passes largely unmarked behind prison bars. For the men and women I’ve met, whose fathers were all too often dead, locked up, angry, violent, emotionally distant, or just plain gone, the third Sunday in June is nothing to celebrate.
More and more of us can relate. Today one in three American children grows up in a home without their biological father, and the national trend toward fatherlessness among all racial groups is an underlying factor in everything from gang violence to childhood obesity. Fatherlessness is part of the well-rehearsed script in media coverage of urban crime, entrenched poverty, and achievement gaps.
With its well-researched, widespread social consequences, fatherlessness is a plague on all our houses–not just the ones without good dads. But there’s some surprisingly good news. If good fathers matter so much–if they can raise their children’s test scores, keep them out of jail, help them graduate high school, protect them from poverty, and help them avoid drug abuse and premature sexual activity–then, just by supporting and empowering fathers, we can put a dent in some of our most intractable social problems.
This spring I spent a gorgeous Saturday with dads, moms, and kids who were having fun playing games and running around outside. For lunch, we dined on chili dogs piled high with onions and cheese.
I can’t tell you how great it was to watch these fathers with their children. You see, we were in a prison yard, and these parents and children don’t normally get to spend a day playing together.
We were celebrating a wonderful group of Christian fathers who have given their whole selves to Jesus, thanks to discipleship programs in prison. These intensive, 18-month programs train participants to become the men God designed them to be. Graduates are better husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and leaders!
That day, laughter filled the prison yard as families rejoiced in simple togetherness. For a few hours, the harsh realities of incarceration faded away. I saw a father and his 6-foot-3 teenage son strategize about pre-season football workouts. Dad will be home in a few months—in time for his son’s senior football season, and both are overjoyed. Another father carried his little girl in one arm and his little boy in the other, because at their tender ages, what they needed most was for Dad to hold them in the safety of his embrace.
And I thought, Thank You, Lord, that these men can go home and finish well as husbands and fathers.
Even from behind razor wire, a dad can receive forgiveness and healing from his heavenly Father and be restored to his children. This Father’s Day, thank you for helping to give children the Father and the dads they have needed all along!
Chad was adopted at age 3. He was raised by hardworking parents who provided for him and his older brother. He considered himself a Christian, but he had some false understandings about his faith. One was that Christ’s sacrifice and provision of forgiveness could be used as a license to sin.
“I thought that if Christ died for my sins,” Chad says now, “then I can just keep on sinning.”
Chad says he was an “irresponsible” adolescent. “I was a minor criminal,” he recalls, consistently using his distorted view of forgiveness as a way to justify his unlawful behavior.
Before he turned 30, Chad landed in prison, sentenced to 17 years for crimes that included counterfeiting money. Chad has a young son who will be 19 by the time he gets out.
But prison turned out to be the place where Chad finally turned around—truly turned around—thanks to the generous support of Prison Fellowship partners. He came to realize that true repentance meant turning away from his sinful behavior, instead of just excusing himself.
“I’ve learned some of my most important life lessons from drug dealers and gang members and prostitutes, and I’ve had some of my most profound theological conversations not in the hallowed halls of a seminary but on a street corner on a Friday night, at 1 a.m.”
Thus begins the Rev. Jeffery Brown’s presentation at the TED2015 Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Brown, a Baptist minister, was instrumental in forming the Boston Ten-Point Coalition, a faith-based group that is widely credited for helping to reduce the violent crime in that city by 79 percent through the decade of the ’90s.
Following a shooting that took place mere feet from the front door of his church, Brown came to the understanding that he had been approaching the matter of crime in his community all wrong:
And so as I contemplated all of this and looked at what was happening, I suddenly realized that there was a paradox that was emerging inside of me, and the paradox was this: in all of those sermons that I preached decrying the violence, I was also talking about building community, but I suddenly realized that there was a certain segment of the population that I was not including in my definition of community. And so the paradox was this: If I really wanted the community that I was preaching for, I needed to reach out and embrace this group that I had cut out of my definition. Which meant not about building programs to catch those who were on the fences of violence, but to reach out and to embrace those who were committing the acts of violence, the gang bangers, the drug dealers.
The key, Brown concluded, was not to avoid the criminal element in his midst, but to actively engage it.