Where Restoration Starts

By Jim Liske | Posted October 20, 2014

Liske_154When Israel was almost overcome by surrounding nations, Gideon and his 300 men encircled the enemy camp with torches hidden inside of earthenware jars. On a signal, they broke their jars, began to yell, and let their torches shine forth. The enemy army, convinced they were about to be attacked by a superior force, fled in confusion (Judges 7).

In a similar way, the restoration of hurting communities starts with brokenness. When He wants to bring healing, God does a surprising thing: He calls broken people to come help. In particular, we’ve discovered that He calls prisoners and ex-prisoners, who have experienced firsthand the pain of addiction, violence, and futile thinking, to come to the rescue of those still trapped in the same cycle. As those broken people show up, light shines forth, and the powers of darkness flee!

Across the country, Prison Fellowship Ministries offers seminary-level Christian leadership training and faith-based reentry opportunities to men and women behind bars, so that when they are released from prison, they are ready to shine the light of Christ in their communities and rout the Enemy. Hundreds are in training right now to continue the work of restoration in their neighborhoods!

God uses broken people like me and you, too. Have you considered volunteering to work with prisoners, families, or legislators, but wondered whether you were qualified enough? Right now, we need volunteer leaders whom God is calling to lead ministry in their states. We need advocates who will call their legislators to speak up for restorative justice. We need churches who will seek out children and families on the margins of life. Don’t let fear hold you back—that’s where the light and love of Christ can come pouring through. That’s where restoration starts.

A New Life for Jorge

By Kate Campbell | Posted October 16, 2014

A version of the following story will be featured in an upcoming Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s quarterly newspaper for prisoners. If you would like to view past issues of Inside Journal, or would like to contribute to providing this resource for men and women behind bars, click here.

JorgeGarcia1Jorge Garcia was just 13 years old his first time in a juvenile detention facility. For him, it was a badge of honor.

“It made me think I was cool,” says Jorge. “But I was only a kid. I didn’t know where all this was going to take me.”

Jorge was born in Mexico but immigrated to San Diego with his family when he was 11. “I found out that it was a different language, a different culture,” he remembers.


Building Connections

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted October 15, 2014

Dr. Jeffrey Russell loves helping others.

Every Friday he drives into Tulsa, Oklahoma, to serve dinner and teach a class in Christian doctrine to the homeless and incarcerated.

Russell has been a chiropractor in nearby Sand Springs since 1995, and he sees his profession as another way to help people. After a chiropractor helped him heal from a high school wrestling injury, Russell decided he wanted to do the same for others.

This past winter, Russell connected with another group of people who needed his help: the 2.7 million children in America with an incarcerated parent. These children often feel confused and alone because of their parents’ mistakes. They are five times more likely to live in poverty than other children, and they’re also at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems, such as depression and drug use.

Angel Tree connects children with their incarcerated parents.

Angel Tree connects children with their incarcerated parents.

Last Christmas, Russell had the opportunity to share with some of these kids that their futures aren’t set in stone by their parents’ choices. They can thrive in life despite their situations because their Heavenly Father walks beside them.

An Invitation to Help

For Russell, the door to this ministry opened in November 2013 when he started talking with a patient—the husband of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Program Specialist Mary Hamelin.

Mary and her husband shared with Russell what the Angel Tree program is all about: It’s a national outreach by local church congregations who deliver the Gospel message and Christmas gifts to children in the name of their incarcerated parents.

Russell wanted to help. He presented the ministry to Pastor Steve Bookout at his church, Prattwood Assembly of God in Sand Springs. Russell explained the outreach would be an immediate blessing to the children and would also connect Prattwood Assembly with parents and grandparents for fellowship and a way to witness.

Bookout loved the idea of getting his congregation involved in Angel Tree. With Christmas just around the corner, time would be a challenge.


Two Years to Live

By Jim Liske | Posted October 15, 2014

Liske_154I lost a good friend this week. He was killed in a tragic roadside accident, leaving behind his wife and three daughters. I was with his family at the hospital as they said their final good-byes and went home without him.

On my own way home, I remembered that he was only two years older than I am. Just 54 years old, and his life of earthly service to Jesus is over.

What if I only have two more years?

The answer? I will seek God in the midst of trial and triumph. I will love my family with all that God has given me. I will run to the hurting with the healing hope of Jesus. I will share grace and truth no matter what. I will seek out the broken people of this world behind prison walls, and deliver the restorative message of the One who saves us and gives each day on earth meaning. I will love, live, and serve each day as it might be my last.

What if you only had two years to live? Where would you put your time and your resources? In whom would you invest? If you’ve wanted to make ministry to prisoners and their families a part of your earthly service to Jesus, or if you’ve wanted to deepen your commitment, I challenge you to take the first step today. Learn how at

Finding Answers

By Jim Liske | Posted October 9, 2014

Liske_154Answers aren’t always easy to find in prison.

Behind bars, where people search for something to give them purpose and a sense of belonging, many religions and sects peddle their beliefs. In some units, where prisoners have no access to chapel services or other special events, the Truth can be even harder to spot.

Thankfully, for prisoners in more than 700 facilities, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal newspaper proclaims the Gospel through relevant, inspirational articles, distributed by chaplains and volunteers.

On prison visits, volunteers like Dave pass them out to prisoners hungry for answers. One man, who was especially touched by the articles he read, wrote this letter:

“I was lying on my bunk and this old man came up to my cell door and asked me if I wanted something to read. I got up and started talking to him, and my heart went out to this man in his 80′s named Dave. He slid the Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s newspaper for America’s prisons, Volume 23, No. 2, Spring 2014 under my cell door and told me, ‘You read that and you will find some answers.’ I read that newspaper three times and was touched emotionally by all of the articles.”

As you partner with us, we’re sending Inside Journal to more and more prisons, inviting men and women to know the freedom Christ offers behind bars. To learn more, or to order bulk shipments for a prison where you minister as a volunteer, visit:

Holt vs. Hobbs: The Impact of Religious Freedom in Prison

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted October 9, 2014

On Tuesday, the case of Holt vs. Hobbs went before the Supreme Court.

The case is brought by Gregory Holt, who is incarcerated in Arkansas and desires to grow a beard in accordance with his Muslim faith. Prison policy in Arkansas prohibits beards for security reasons. Holt is challenging this prohibition under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law that Prison Fellowship‘s founder, Chuck Colson, worked to pass.

Prison Fellowship has always believed that freedom of religion is a God-given right, and that men and women made in God’s image don’t forfeit that right upon conviction of a crime. That’s why Prison Fellowship submitted an amicus brief in support of Holt’s right to religious freedom as established in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has until summer 2015 to issue its opinion on the case.

In Dr. Byron R. Johnson‘s op-ed, he highlights how this case goes beyond the individual situation of Gregory Holt; it impacts the future of religious freedom for prisoners.

By enacting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000, Congress decided that the ability of prisoners to exercise religious freedom was more important than any burden this freedom may place on prison employees. How the Supreme Court interprets Holt vs. Hobbs will determine more broadly the ways prisoners are allowed to express their religion, such as through faith-based programs and in-prison ministry activities.

Johnson’s article states, “… because faith-based prison ministries are an attractive, efficacious, and cost-effective means of reducing criminal recidivism, the legal issue is of enormous importance to all Americans – regardless of religious belief or disbelief.”

Johnson goes on to support the importance and success of faith-based programs by citing the results of studies done on Prison Fellowship’s in-prison ministry programs in New York, Texas, and Minnesota.


Dignity Is Key to Prison Reform

By Steve Rempe | Posted October 9, 2014

When seeking to improve the effectiveness of our current prison systems here in the United States, it is important to recognize the humanity of those behind bars.  So says Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske in a recent op-ed article for the Huffington Post.

“We can help create more success stories—and safer communities—through policies that respect the human dignity of each life,” Liske says, “recognizing that ‘criminals’ are not a monolithic group of monsters. They are people, capable of choosing to change and contribute.”

Respecting that dignity begins at the time of trial.  Liske suggests increasing the use of alternative courts—drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts—as a way of being cognizant of the needs of those the traditional justice system is ill-equipped to serve

Once in the prison system, Liske proposes a re-emphasis on rehabilitation, as opposed to simply warehousing prisoners before release.  He notes the importance of volunteer organizations (like Prison Fellowship) that provide effective programming at no cost to taxpayers by focusing on the underlying causes of criminal behavior.  He also commends prison officials, like Angola Prison’s Warden Burl Cain, who think outside the box in creating an environment conducive to the transformation of those incarcerated.

Finally, Liske emphasizes the importance of supporting those reentering society from prison.  One key way to provide such support would be through passing the Second Chance Reauthorization Act currently being considered by Congress.  The act would extend partnerships between state and local governments and non-governmental organizations to help provide programs designed to reduce recidivism and give these newly released citizens the opportunities needed to be successful.

“[T]here is no freedom without respect for the dignity of each human being,” Liske concludes.  “It’s time for that respect to be enshrined in the criminal justice system, for all our sakes.”

Prison Fellowship understands the importance recognizing prisoners as human beings, created and loved by God, and capable of being transformed.  And Prison Fellowship volunteers play a great role in helping to bring that transformation to fruition.  To learn how you can be a part of the change taking place in the lives of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, visit

A Family Reunited

By Prison Fellowship | Posted October 8, 2014

As the steel doors slammed shut and a stone-faced officer led her husband away, Rocio hurt as only a wife and a mother can.

“We had never been separated, and I was a stay-at-home mom,” she recalls. “I was suddenly left alone and looking for work.”

“At the time, our three kids were young. I told them that their dad had a new job as a cook at the prison,” Rocio says.

That was true, but it was little comfort.

Angel Tree children receive gifts on behalf of their incarcerated parents at Christmastime.

Angel Tree children receive gifts on behalf of their incarcerated parents at Christmastime.

Bobby and Vivian, the two youngest, ached for their daddy to tuck them into bed. For Vianca, the oldest, there was the terrible burden of shame. Rocio felt it too. It was like she and her children were the ones doing time.

She had just two things going for her: a church that cared and the Angel Tree program.

A Broken Heart Cries Out

As Christmas got closer, the pressure mounted. The children had never had a Christmas without their father.

Now they might not have Christmas at all. Rocio had no money to buy presents. Most days, it was all she could do to put food on table.

From a broken heart, she cried out to God. What happened next was a genuine Christmas miracle.

Rocio remembers it like it was yesterday. “One day there was a knock on our door,” she says. When she answered, a volunteer from a local church told her that he had been sent on behalf of her husband and Angel Tree. “He told me he had gifts for our kids from their daddy,” Rocio recalls.


Contributing from Behind Bars

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted October 2, 2014
Times photo/JACLYN RANDALL Pictured, left to right: top row - CVSP Warden A.M. Gonzales; Blythe T.A.S.K. co-founders Gail Townsend and Angela Searles; Bags of Love representative Shirley Foster; CVSP Community Resource Manager Kenny Kalian; Blythe Travel Baseball representative Richard Johnson; and CVSP AA Self-Help Sponsor Erin Barnes; bottom row – A.A. Secretary Jason Rivera, A.A. Chairman Marco Galvan, A.A. Treasurer Donyel Brown, former A.A. Secretary Manuel Dunn, and A.A. Chairman Thomas Owen, all from CVSP’s “C” yard.

Palo Verde Valley Times/JACLYN RANDALL Pictured, left to right: top row – CVSP Warden A.M. Gonzales; Blythe T.A.S.K. co-founders Gail Townsend and Angela Searles; Bags of Love representative Shirley Foster; CVSP Community Resource Manager Kenny Kalian; Blythe Travel Baseball representative Richard Johnson; and CVSP AA Self-Help Sponsor Erin Barnes; bottom row – A.A. Secretary Jason Rivera, A.A. Chairman Marco Galvan, A.A. Treasurer Donyel Brown, former A.A. Secretary Manuel Dunn, and A.A. Chairman Thomas Owen, all from CVSP’s “C” yard.

You don’t often hear stories in the news about prisoners ‘giving back’ to society from behind prison walls, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening all around the country.

Take Marco for example. He and his fellow Alcoholics Anonymous participants at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in California are contributing to meaningful causes while incarcerated.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to do this,” says Marco Galvan, prisoner and AA chairman. “Doing this is our way to make amends and give back.”

This group of prisoners pictured above held a fundraiser, selling food to other prisoners at Chuckawalla. With the funds they raised, they chose to help three local organizations: Blythe Travel Baseball, Blythe T.A.S.K. (Team of Advocates for Special-Needs Kids), and Bags of Love, which provides hygiene products and other necessities for children who are removed from their homes.

Palo Verde Valley Times reports that the prisoners chose these three local organizations to receive the money because the groups “helped the youth in a way that may discourage them from ending up in the same place they reside – prison.”

Two of the prisoners who participated in the fundraiser are currently studying in Prison Fellowship’s in-prison seminary-training program. These students, Manuel Dunn and Thomas Owen, and their fellow prisoners are looking past their current personal situations to how they can help the next generation in the outside community.


‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’

By Mary Ellen Armbruster | Posted October 2, 2014
Mary Ellen Armbruster

Mary Ellen Armbruster

It had been a day full of laughter, songs, and skits as Prison Fellowship’s Operation Starting Line® event began to wind down. This party had brought family members into prison to spend some time with their incarcerated loved ones.

Being not only a Prison Fellowship staff member but also a Department of Corrections chaplain at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, I served in a variety of capacities that day.

I approached two women—a prisoner and her guest—as they sat at a table chatting.

“You wanted to speak with a chaplain?” I asked, having been directed to the guest by one of the volunteers.

They both smiled as the older woman said, “No.”

Apparently, I’d misunderstood the direction―but, I was soon to discover that in God’s economy, I was right where I was supposed to be.


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