Angel Tree

No Laughing Matter

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 23, 2014

Humor is a very powerful thing.  It has the ability to entertain.  It can connect people who otherwise might have very little in common and allow old friends to revisit happy times and places.  A well-timed joke can relieve tension, foster conversation, encourage, bring cheer, and alleviate melancholy.

It can also inform, elucidate, and raise awareness of serious issues – sometimes in ways a simple recitation of facts cannot.

On his “Last Week Tonight” program, comedian John Oliver delivers a lengthy monologue focused on the state of the corrections system in the United States.  The commentary deals with a wide range of prison-related issues – from mandatory minimums, to solitary confinement, to the privatization of prisons, to the number of children with at least one parent behind bars.  At one point, Oliver plays a clip from Sesame Street’s “Little Children, Big Challenges” program which is specifically intended for children of inmates.

“Just think about that,” Oliver says incredulously.  “We now need adorable, singing puppets to explain prison to children in the same way they explain the number seven or what the moon is.”


Seeing the Invisible

By Jim Liske | Posted July 16, 2014

Liske_154Today there are approximately 2.7 million children with a mom or dad behind bars in this country. There’s no easy way to tell who these boys and girls are. They are all over the country, in busy cities and sleepy towns, in gated communities and run-down projects. Many of them are carrying emotional burdens far too heavy for their years.

The Church is God’s Plan A for loving the hurting, and local churches, with roots deep in their communities, are the group best positioned to embrace these children and their families, wherever they are. Angel Tree churches sign up to do just that.

Margo Nance volunteers to coordinate the Angel Tree program at Embassy Church in Cook County, Illinois, where many prisoners’ children live.

“Angel Tree affords us an opportunity to go to people we don’t know and minister to them, where we know the need is great,” Margo says.

As an example, Margo shares how a church representative called a child’s caregiver and heard a heartbreaking story of need. The family, including a newborn baby, had just lost its home in a fire. Touched by the family’s difficult circumstances, the church went above and beyond to provide much-needed items for the entire family. The caregiver was so blessed by the church’s restorative concern for her family she came back later to ask for prayer.

If we want to make the invisible Kingdom visible, we must go out of our way to notice those who feel invisible, to come alongside them and say, “You are not alone. God sees you. He loves you, and so do we.”

Churches large and small, urban and rural, can embrace this joyous calling. Learn how to become an Angel Tree church at

Fatherhood Found in Storybooks

By Kate Campbell | Posted July 9, 2014

Kate Campbell is a summer intern with Prison Fellowship, working with Inside Journal. She is currently studying photojournalism at Boston University.

Recently, the Wisconsin State Journal published an article about a program called Reading Connections, which allows incarcerated fathers and mothers to record videos of themselves reading stories for their children. The parent also writes a letter, which is sent to their child along with a copy of the storybook.

In America, over 2.7 million children are growing up with an incarcerated parent. The Reading Connections program helps children maintain a relationship with and their parent during the difficult time of incarceration. Studies have shown that prisoners have a lesser chance of reoffending if they have healthy relationships with their families.

Prison Fellowship Ministries works to reduce the prison return rate by building and restoring relationships, including those between parents and children.

In Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, prisoners have the opportunity to build relationships with their children through the Storybook Dad program. The program began in 2008, and since then it has become an entirely prisoner-run operation.

According to Phillip Dautrich, an IFI counselor for Prison Fellowship, about 50 percent of the men in the Carol Vance Unit participate in the program. Men come into the studio at their scheduled time, choose a book, and then sit in front of a microphone and read the book. Other volunteer prisoners work with the sound equipment to add sound effects to the voice recording, then burn that track onto a CD, complete with a personalized CD case. Fathers can then send the CD and a copy of the book to their child as a birthday present or as part of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program at Christmastime. Volunteers have sent out over 1,500 CDs and more than 750 books.

“It gives the opportunity for the men to start thinking about reconciliation,” says Dautrich. “I like to think that that book is going to be a building block for them.”

Dautrich says that this program has definitely made an impact on both the fathers and the children.

“What we’re seeing now is that the child is now very excited for their dad to come home,” says Dautrich. “From the dad’s perspective, for them this was maybe the first time they weren’t selfish and they did something just for their child.”

This program often starts conversations about fatherhood and reconciliation.

“I don’t know if they’ve ever thought about what it means to be a father, and a responsible one.” says Dautrich. “It opens doors for us to start talking about it.”

We are all called to share the message of restorative hope found in the Gospel. Prison Fellowship strives to restore family connections through its Angel Tree program. Learn more about how you can be a part of this mission of restoration at

Pray for Angel Tree Campers

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted June 12, 2014

Through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program, churches across the country deliver Christmas gifts to local children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. These church volunteers also bring the Gospel message to the children they visit, sharing that their parent cares about them and so does their Heavenly Father. While Angel Tree starts with a Christmas gift, so much more follows after — not just at Christmastime, but all year long.

Prison Fellowship encourages Angel Tree churches to continue reaching out to the children of prisoners throughout the year, through ministries at the church, outreach events, mentoring relationships, and summer camps. Many churches generously choose to send the Angel Tree children they served earlier in the year to a summer camp, where the kids can learn more about their Heavenly Father – who they were introduced to at Christmas – and build bonds with children in similar circumstances as themselves.

Calicinto Ranch

Calicinto Ranch

For the past 10 years, First Christian Church in Santa Maria, California, has been sending children to Angel Tree camp. This year, the church raised funds to send 30 Angel Tree children to a specialized camp called Calicinto Ranch, where the kids get to play with goats, raise chickens, ride horses, and go swimming. Fifteen mentors from First Christian Church will be paying their own way to be with these kids at camp.


Roy’s Long Road to Paradise

By Alyson R. Quinn | Posted May 27, 2014

Roy Yamamoto grew up in paradise, leaving his footprints on Oahu’s pristine beaches and surfing its warm, turquoise waves.

But his life wasn’t a picture-perfect postcard.

“I had a very violent upbringing,” he remembers.

Although the members of his family loved one another, the frequent abuse scarred him.


Roy Yamamoto got hooked with just one hit of ice. His choices cost him his family and his freedom, but prison was just the beginning of his incredible story.

School offered no refuge, because Roy’s learning disability made it hard for him to read and write. Still, the opportunity to participate in sports kept him from dropping out. He excelled as a lineman on the football team. After high school graduation, he planned to play football for Sacramento College.

But Roy started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Instead of training to make himself a better athlete, he partied – hard.

“My career in drugs became more important than my career in football,” he recalls.

Roy’s situation became even more complicated when his then-girlfriend became pregnant. Trying to be responsible, he married her and took a job as an iron worker, just like his father.

At work, Roy noticed that many of his friends did “ice,” or crystal meth. He swore to himself that he would never become like them; their addictions were costing them their jobs and their families.


A New Man in Christ

By Carolyn Kincaid | Posted May 19, 2014
Terrell enjoys playing the piano for others.

Terrell enjoys playing the piano for others.

Without a daddy, you never really learn how to be a man.  Just ask Terrell.  Sometimes he still feels like an orphan.  His stepdad – the only father he had ever known – walked out on his mom when Terrell was just 13.  For some of the most critical years of his life, the only family and the only teacher he had was the streets.

The streets taught Terrell that a man was the one who sold the most drugs, broke the most laws, and lived closest to the edge.  He got involved with a gang.  He was arrested and sent to prison.  As the heavy, steel doors slammed shut behind him, Terrell was scared.  “I couldn’t even sleep at night,” he remembers.  “Sometimes you were scared for your life.”

“I didn’t know what to do,” Terrell adds.  He’d been saved a few years before, but admits he “fell off.”  It took living behind bars to get Terrell’s attention; maybe nothing else would have broken through.  He rededicated his life to Christ.  And then, he was connected to Prison Fellowship®.


Documentary: ‘Mothers of Bedford’

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted May 15, 2014

This week, “America ReFramed” aired its feature-length documentary on the lives of incarcerated moms: “Mothers of Bedford.”

“America ReFramed” is a television series bringing its viewers a “snapshot of the transforming American life.”  Within the last few decades the number of incarcerated women in America has more than doubled, and today, 80 percent of female inmates are biological mothers to school-aged children. The separation of mother and child is becoming a reality for more and more families each day.

The filmmaker of “Mothers of Bedford,” Jenifer McShane, spent four years following five incarcerated mothers at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security penitentiary in New York. Through interviews with the mothers, their children and other family members, the children’s caregivers, and prison employees and volunteers, viewers gain an understanding of what parenting from a distance can be like. From phoning into a parent-teacher conference to celebrating Mother’s Day behind bars, this documentary covers it all: the day-to-day and the out-of-the-ordinary.


Moms Behind Bars

By Jim Liske | Posted May 9, 2014

Liske_154This coming Sunday we’ll celebrate all the moms in our lives – mothers, grandmothers, and special women who have loved us well and helped us become the people we are today.

Lately I’ve been thinking about moms in a unique circumstance – the ones behind bars. Whenever I visit a women’s prison, I’m heartbroken, thinking about all the boys and girls who are growing up separated from their moms. It also makes me sad to see how many of these incarcerated women are my daughter’s age, as I imagine how my wife Cathy and I would feel to see her locked up.

Women are the fastest-growing group in the incarcerated population, and close to 80 percent of them are mothers. These moms are behind bars as a result of poor choices, many of which could make them ill-equipped to be the kind of parents their children need. But they are also women created by God to reflect His image, women who have often suffered awful abuse or untreated mental illness, women who have too rarely received the love and respect we would want all women to experience.

Prison Fellowship’s volunteers and staff work with women behind bars to show them how completely the Father loves them, to help them heal from deep wounds, and to equip moms to be nurturing parents.

These moms have many hurdles to overcome behind bars and after they are released, but by God’s grace and with your prayers and partnership, a future full of redemption and restoration is possible! Learn how you can support moms (and dads, too!) behind bars at

A Softened Heart

By Carolyn Kincaid | Posted May 5, 2014


Eric has been serving a life sentence in an Alabama prison since 2000. He started using drugs as a teenager, and before long, he was selling them. When a drug deal went bad, he killed a would-be customer.

At age 17, Eric was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Eric’s girlfriend was pregnant when he was locked up. Their daughter, Alexandria, was born five months later.

Eric was an atheist when he went to prison and remained one for his first nine years behind bars, until a fellow prisoner reached out to him with the Gospel.

“I knew I was missing something,” he recalls. “I had that friend of mine who was involved in ministry, and I just walked up to him and basically told him I was ready. He knew exactly what I was talking about.”


Freed From a Spiritual Prison

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted March 26, 2014

When Chris Padgett was 14 years old, his sister was diagnosed with cancer. Exactly two months before she passed away, Chris watched as a minister visited her in the hospital and led her to the Lord.

A few months later – with a softened heart from the loss of his sister – Chris accepted Jesus into his life, too.

Chris went on to attend college and serve in the Missouri Army National Guard for six years. After, he took a job as a security guard at a hospital. He recalls several times when he stopped to pray with patients who were hurting.

“I was truly compassionate,” he remembers.

But soon Chris began working as a corrections officer in a medium-high security prison, and he started to feel himself changing – slowly losing his compassion for others.

“It’s a hard field if you don’t guard your heart,” he says.

It wasn’t long before Chris found himself snowballing into an eight-year lie that would land him on the other side of the prison bars and, at the same time, propel him into a journey toward spiritual freedom.


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