When Gus (a pseudonym) went to prison, Ronald Reagan was president. New episodes of M.A.S.H. were still airing, and Steve Jobs was getting ready to launch the Macintosh personal computer.
But Gus is getting out soon. Understandably, he’s feeling a mixture of fear and elation sometimes known as “gate fever.” He can’t wait for freedom, but his family members are estranged or dead, and he has no work history. All too often, men and women in his situation go back to prison because they can’t imagine any other life.
But Gus has one huge thing in his favor: He is a member of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), a Prison Fellowship values-based reentry program based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He has been preparing for release, practically and spiritually, and he has a mentor he can call whenever he runs into a challenge. The staff of IFI has even shown him how to work a cell phone, and they brought him a restaurant menu so he can practice choosing for himself.
Gus has a plan, a place to stay, and friends who care about him. He and many other soon-to-be ex-prisoners have the tools for success because of partners like you, who support Prison Fellowship with your gifts, prayers, and time.
Frederick Hutson had a plan.
While serving 51 months in prison on drug charges, Hutson saw firsthand the struggles that inmates had staying in touch with family members. He knew the disproportionate costs prisoners were paying just to talk on the phone with loved ones. He also noticed that those who were unable to have regular contact with their families were returning to the prison at a higher rate. And he realized that what he was seeing in his prison was probably true in prisons across the country.
Using the entrepreneurial savvy that had once made him a successful drug dealer, Huston began formulating a business model for a company that would make it easier for prisoners to connect to their friends and family. The result is Pigeon.ly, an enterprise that allows inmates to receive photos and inexpensive phone calls.
More than 40 prisons across the U.S. participate in Prison Fellowship’s intensive reentry courses in life skills and Bible-based values. Through these reentry programs, men and women behind bars spend about a year preparing for a successful life after prison. As a result, many former prisoners return home as redeemed individuals, reconciled to their families and restored to their communities. Rather than falling back into the cycle of crime and incarceration, these men and women become productive members of society with Christ at their center!
A student of Prison Fellowship’s Transformed Life class shares a poem on how the reentry program and the ministry volunteers impacted his life:
“The Journey to a Transformed Life and Mind”
” … Volunteering and steering
New lives, opening minds
By God’s divine, teaching us to
Carry the message, and not the mess.
Showing us it is okay
To visit the past, just don’t bring a suitcase
And take off the mask.
Past September; we all came seeking
Transformation from past complications
Praying and searching for manifestations
Confrontations of new learning in
New destinations; shedding our mask
Uncovering guilt and shame
I just got a letter from Lauren, a woman in Oregon who is finishing her prison sentence and finding great joy as she participating in Prison Fellowship® programs. Thanks to her relationships with Prison Fellowship volunteers, she’s better prepared to go back to her community as a follower of Jesus. She writes:
Whether or not this letter makes it into your hands, or whomever may read it along the way, I wanted you all to know how much of a difference your Prison Fellowship volunteers make. … I’m lost no longer … right here is exactly where I need to be. With a year and a half down, and a year and eight months to go, my walk with Christ grows stronger every day. … [The volunteers] are open books, sharing their lives and walks with us as well. Their Tuesday nights are spent with one-to-one mentoring, breaking down walls with us girls we didn’t even know existed, and their Thursday nights are spent with the whole Prison Fellowship family to worship and learn about Jesus. Needless to say, they are very dedicated, not just to us [but] to what Jesus Christ has called them to do – to minister to us, and that’s what they have been doing for years, making a difference. [The volunteers] appear to be normal people with full-time jobs, full-time families, and lives they are living, but they’re not normal! … They are part of the Lord’s army, suited with the armor of God and ready to battle for our souls.
Have you been wondering whether you could volunteer for Prison Fellowship Ministries? Our thousands of volunteers are people just like you, living normal, busy lives, but with a heart committed to restoring the “least of these” in their communities. Learn more at http://www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved/.
In recent years, California’s prisons have seen intense overcrowding — to the point that federal judges ruled the quality of life in violation of prisoners’ civil rights.
In 2011, Governor Brown introduced a reduction plan that included moving prisoners with nonviolent charges to county jails and probation centers. Now, with two more years to get the population down to 112,100, California is looking into additional methods for reduction, such as good-behavior incentives for prisoners that could lead to early release and parole.
Time.com interviewed five criminal justice experts to see what lessons California could learn from the experiences of other states as it continues on its mission. Here’s a quick look at what the experts had to say.
Preschoolers AJ and Butchie witnessed a harrowing scene in the courtroom; if it had ended there, these two little boys would have faced a future without hope or promise. But Angel Tree supporters helped rescue them and turn their hearts to their parents.
AJ and Butchie watched in horror that day as both of their parents were brought into a courtroom on drug charges. Catching sight of their shackled parents, the children screamed and flailed to get to them.
Their father, Butch, listened to their heartrending cries of “Daddy, Daddy” — and helplessly burst into tears.
Their mom was released, but Butch was given a seven-year prison sentence.
He attended every Christian program he could, including Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative — an intensive course of study and reentry preparation centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Butch’s life was transforming, but his wife, Gwenni, struggled with her own drug addiction. And taking care of AJ and Butchie alone on the outside was demanding.
The following post originally appeared on the Justice Fellowship blog.
There’s no way anyone is going to do this.
That depressing whisper of doubt and futility kept up its nagging as I set up the email that would go out to our national list of supporters.
We were at the end of the August recess for Congress, and our team was determined to get the Second Chance Reauthorization Act moving forward.
It was a worthy goal. Chuck Colson had worked to pass the original Second Chance Act in 2008 under President Bush. Since then, tens of thousands of men, women, and youth have received mentoring, substance abuse treatment, and other types of reentry support after they are released from prisons, jails, and detention centers. Some of these faith-based services will probably be discontinued or reduced in scope if Congress doesn’t reauthorize Second Chance.
Much has been written in this blog about Warden Burl Cain. (See here, here, and here for examples). During his nearly two decades at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the prison has shed its reputation as the “bloodiest prison in America,” and has become a model for other prisons seeking to reduce violent assaults among prisoners.
In an article for First Things, Peter Leithart seeks to find the reason for the prison’s transformation. While he notes several programs that have been implemented that have contributed to the change, Leithart suggests the biggest reason for the turnaround is more a change in attitude toward those behind bars.
“Respecting inmates as human beings goes beyond treating them with dignity,” Leithart says. “Angola’s programs are set up on the assumption that inmates have talents and hopes that can be cultivated so they can contribute to life within the prison and even to society outside.”
Such an approach is especially important in a maximum security facility like Angola, where the vast majority of inmates will never leave the prison. The value of the individual is not based on what they can contribute, but on the inherent image of God that exists in every soul. And it is because of the recognition of this innate value that these men actually can contribute to their in-prison community and beyond.
I was running on a bike path along a country road. With corn fields on either side, there was an abundance of grasshoppers on the path. As I ran along I noticed that the grasshoppers rapidly jumped into the high grass on either side in order to avoid getting crushed by my feet.
As God often does, He brought a passage of Holy Scripture to my mind:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isaiah 40:21-22).
I was suddenly cheered and contented. No matter how ominous issues in this world and this life are to me, they are nothing compared to our loving, powerful God. Issues that rise up to threaten us shrink and flee from God, jumping out of His way.
Restoring prisoners and their families … seeking to transform the culture of corrections … tackling tough social issues upstream from crime and incarceration … these are all BIG tasks. But to the even bigger God who calls and equips us, these challenges are like grasshoppers. They will disappear before our feet as we walk with our eyes on Him.
And He doesn’t send us alone. He gives us one another so we can run the race together. I am grateful for you and your partnership – you are the fuel in our tank. Learn how you can go even deeper into this ministry with us at prisonfellowship.org.