Prison Fellowship

Keep it Simple

By Jim Liske | Posted March 22, 2013

photo-jimRecently I met Randy, a quiet, unsung hero of the effort to bring men and women safely back into our communities. Randy’s background is not exceptional. He’s a carpenter without a college education. He’s a former addict. But when we talked, he was just about to open his sixteenth transitional home to keep a roof over the head of former prisoners.

Some time ago, God gave Randy the insight to see that former prisoners need a safe place to get back on their feet, something between a halfway house and signing a lease on a place of their own. So he took out a personal mortgage, bought a house, and invited ex-prisoners to come be his tenants. Now Randy has 16 houses. Each house has a set of simple rules: Residents need to work, they need to be in church and Bible study together, and they need to contribute whatever they can to the house payment and general upkeep.

Randy’s vision was simple. He saw a need, and instead of stepping back and waiting for someone more “qualified” to lead, he stepped forward in faith to meet it. Thanks to him, many former prisoners have now found a way to stay off the streets and out of the way of temptation.

God also calls us to acts of simple, life-changing faith. What’s God calling you to do? What need has He allowed you to see? I encourage you to step out in bold simplicity of heart – He may intend to fill that need through you!

Pope to Celebrate Holy Thursday Mass in Prison

By Steve Rempe | Posted March 21, 2013

At his installation service, Pope Francis urged Roman Catholics around the world to serve “the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.”

Today, the new pontiff chose to lead by example.

In an announcement from the Vatican, Pope Francis announced he will celebrate Holy Thursday with inmates at a juvenile prison in Rome, offering the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and washing the feet of 12 inmates.

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Photo courtesy http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com

Traditionally, the Easter Triduum (or “three day” period leading up to Christ’s resurrection, beginning with the Last Supper and arrest of Jesus on Thursday) is celebrated at St John Lateran, which serves as the cathedral for the Bishop of Rome.  Since Pope Francis has yet to formally take possession of the Lateran, the service was originally planned for the Vatican Basilica, prior to Pope Francis’ change of plan.

Such a service is nothing new for the new pontiff.  As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass in jails, in hospitals with HIV patients, or other locations where the poor or marginalized lived.  “With the celebration at the Casal del Marmo [facility],” the Holy See said, “Pope Francis continues this practice, one that can only be characterized in a context of simplicity.”

By taking the Holy Thursday Mass to those behind bars, and by washing the feet of those seen by society as unworthy of forgiveness, Pope Francis reminds us that Christ’s love and mercy are for everyone, and that his very sacrifice on the cross frees us all from the captivity of sin and death.  All Christians, regardless of denomination or tradition, would do well to take the pontiff’s message to heart as Holy Week approaches.

Going Beyond Politics for Prison Reform

By Steve Rempe | Posted March 20, 2013

A recent article in the Weekly Standard proclaims the Republican Party the “party of prison reform.”  The story looks at a number of conservative legislators and policy makers who are actively pushing for changes in the current correctional system, including reducing prison populations, improving reentry opportunities, and mental health reforms.

Traditionally, such reforms have been interpreted as liberal in nature, contrary to the long-perceived conservative narrative of being “tough on crime.”  The conservative lawmakers in the article, however, view things differently.

“Everything we did was rooted in true conservative values of [being] pro-family, changing offender behavior, and saving money,” says Jim Seward, General Counsel for South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard.  South Dakota recently enacted sweeping reforms of the corrections systems in that state, with a goal of significantly reducing the prison population.

“This is not about being hard or soft on crime,” says Daugaard, “This is about being smart on crime.”

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Coming Full Circle

By Beth Reid | Posted March 19, 2013

TISH_BELK_church_300x200Alone in a county jail cell, Tish Belk was scared. She had been on the run for almost a year, and now she faced as many as 20 years in prison. Tish had never felt so lost.

As Tish looked around her empty cell, her eyes rested upon a Bible. She did not know how it got there, and she tried her best to ignore it. But the book seemed to take on a presence, like an uninvited inmate who had barged into the bare concrete room and invaded her solitude. As the book tugged at her, Tish finally relented and flipped it open. She started to read.

Once she had picked up the Bible, Tish could not put it down. She poured through scripture ever day as she and another inmate, “an angel God sent me while I was in Cherokee County Jail,” read through the Bible chapter by chapter.

“I got to the book of Romans, and I started weeping and crying,” remembers Tish. “I knew then that I had to give my whole life to the Lord, because He’s the One that kept me through everything that I’ve been through.”

Her “everything” entailed depression, drugs, addiction, and abuse. At that moment, Tish knew that shedding a lifetime of rage and regret would be no easy task. Looking back now, however, Tish says her life has come full circle, and though her journey begins and ends in the same place, her heart has been changed forever.
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Just Passing Through

By Garland Hunt | Posted March 15, 2013

photo-garland“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” – 1 Peter 2:11 (NIV)

It’s easy to go around believing that this life is the only thing that’s real. As followers of Jesus, though, we are called to a higher vision – like the heroes of faith in the book of Hebrews, we must keep our eyes on the eternal promises of God, even when we cannot yet taste, touch, or see the fruit of those promises.

Like Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and others, we have to see ourselves as strangers and pilgrims on the earth. We must recognize that we are just passing through. No matter what happens around us, we really don’t belong here. Our home is a heavenly one.

As we go about our daily lives, it’s easy to fix our eyes on temporary things, getting bogged down in checklists and goals. These things are necessary to an extent, but ultimately, even our short-term goals should lead us to the fulfillment of imperishable ends.

As you consider what part God might be calling you to play in His ministry to prisoners and their families, I pray that He will give you an eternal perspective on your life. We may all be just passing through this world, but when we invest our time, prayer, and gifts in the destiny of people created in the image of God, we are building a Kingdom that will never pass away.

Inside Journal® Shines Light in Dark Places

By Alyson R. Quinn | Posted March 13, 2013

Inside_Journal_250pxPrison can be a dark place, full of dangerous personalities and corrosive influences. Inmates who want to follow Christ must fight against a tide that threatens to push them back into old behaviors and thought patterns. Other inmates might be curious about Jesus, but, cynical about the value of “religion,” they balk at the idea of attending a chapel service. A third group – including inmates in lock-down or solitary confinement – may simply have no access to chapel services or Bible studies. Prison Fellowship created Inside Journal in 1991 to speak to all three groups, meeting them at their point of need through uplifting content that clearly communicates the Gospel.

Generous donors allow Prison Fellowship to circulate 122,000 copies of Inside Journal to more than 575 state, federal, county, and community corrections facilities four times a year. Having recently expanded into Delaware, it now reaches all 50 states.

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Defying Gravity as We Walk in the Spirit

By Garland Hunt | Posted March 8, 2013

photo-garlandRecently an asteroid, caught in the earth’s gravitational field, came crashing through the atmosphere and landed in Russia. Hundreds of people were injured.

In a similar way, spiritual gravity – our flesh, our bad habits, our character – keeps us from walking in spiritual liberty. The circumstances of our lives dictate our attitudes, and whenever we have a rough day, we lack the “unspeakable joy” and “exceeding peace” that Scripture talks about. We misrepresent Christ’s likeness when we allow circumstances to determine our emotional state.

Friends, we can, here and now, walk with joy and peace in our hearts – regardless of outward circumstances – as long as we stay connected to the vine of Jesus Christ. Paul was a prisoner during much of his time in ministry. He was told when he could eat and sleep and go to the bathroom; however he was able to continue following his destiny and write New Testament letters to the Church. He did not allow his tribulations to dictate his attitude. His happiness was not circumstantial. That’s true liberty. That’s pure joy.

Whether we are incarcerated in a physical prison or a prison of circumstance, God offers us real joy and peace that the world can’t take away. That’s the same joy and peace that Prison Fellowship teams will go behind bars to offer to inmates over Easter weekend. CEO Jim Liske and I invite you to go with us through your intercession. You can become part of the Prison Fellowship prayer team here and receive prayer requests at a day and time of your choosing. I hope you’ll join us.

True Worship

By Jim Liske | Posted March 1, 2013

photo-jimTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. – Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

In Romans, Paul writes to a group of people who are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. They are being persecuted just as He was – they are feeling the sting of the same lashes He did. He tells them to take joy in their afflictions and continue to lay down their bodies as literal, living sacrifices.

It’s as if Paul were saying, “You know that He provides. So give it all back. Lay everything down on the altar as an offering to God.”

There’s nothing like worship time in church on Sundays, but sometimes we limit our definition of worship too much. Worship is broader than a hymn. Our whole lives can be an act of worship. We can and should offer every moment of our lives, every thought in our heads, and every corner of our hearts back to the God who has given us everything.

In our particular time and place, we’re not being asked to die for Christ, but we’re being asked to live for Christ. Will we love who He loves? Will we go to the “least of these” – like the prisoner and his child – as His hands and feet? Will we give what He gave – our all?

This is true worship.

From Servant of the World to Servant of the Lord

By Audrey Fay | Posted February 26, 2013
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Audrey Fay

I am not sure what prevented me from committing suicide. I had traveled a long, lonely road. I let circumstances from my childhood and young adult life boil inside me, until I felt angry at the whole world. I had thought that if I helped everyone around me and did everything they asked of me, they would like me, and I would find the happiness I craved. Instead, my preoccupation with pleasing others almost drove me off a cliff.

I began embezzling money from my employer so that I could meet the expectations I felt my family, co-workers, and friends had of me. I lived a lie, and it didn’t make me feel more liked and loved by those closest to me. Instead, I felt lonely and cold, trapped by the web of my own deceit. Deeply depressed, I thought about taking my own life. Instead, I walked into my boss’s office and told him the ugly truth.

They say the truth sets you free, and it does, but first I had to go prison. Under a plea agreement, I was sentenced to a year of incarceration. From the county jail, I was sent to the Valley State Prison for Women – in central California – just days before Thanksgiving 2004. I had never been to prison before. On my first night, my cellmate was sent to the hospital with a sudden illness. Then someone down the hall tried to light a cigarette and blew a circuit. The entire unit sat in the dark while rain poured down outside. I sat in my unlit room for six long days and nights. I was alone, except for the rat that scurried in and out.

The only things in my room were a Bible and a Prison Fellowship pamphlet explaining God’s plan of redemption. I picked them up and began to read. As I read, I struggled through difficult passages of Scripture. My internal conflict built. I wanted to know God. I felt Him calling me to be His servant, but I had questions and reservations.

On the sixth night, I called out to God. I cried and yelled, asking Him to save me from the life I was leading and take me as His child. I prayed that He would make the lights come back on, and that the rat would disappear.

The next day, the lights finally came back on, and I never saw the rat again. It was then that I knew that the Lord had heard my cries, and I would never be the same person.

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Increasing “Good Time” for Federal Prisoners

By Steve Rempe | Posted February 25, 2013

A current practice in the federal prison system is to allow inmates to accrue “good time” credit for model behavior during their incarceration.  Prisoners can receive up to 54 days* a year for avoiding disciplinary issues during their time behind bars, which can then be removed from the end of their sentence.  The concept is three-fold: prisons would be able to reduce behavioral incidents among the prisoners, encourage progress toward obtaining a high school diploma or GED, while reducing the prison population by allowing those inmates who are ostensibly lower risks for recidivism to return to civilian life.

While some state prison populations have declined in recent years, federal prisons have continued to grow at a rate of about 2.7 percent annually.  The annual budget for the Bureau of Prisons has grown from $330 million in 1980 to $6.6 billion in 2012.  This has resulted in a prison system that is currently 39 percent over capacity.  With tough federal sentencing guidelines, this trend of overcrowded prisons and increasing budgets is likely to continue.

In response, FedCURE, an advocate group for reforming the federal prison system, has proposed increasing the maximum “good time” earned from 54 days a year to 128.  Doing so would save the U.S. government $1.2 billion a year, according to FedCURE chairman Mark Varca.

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