Prison Fellowship

Easter behind Bars Helps Us Understand Redemption

By Prison Fellowship | Posted April 3, 2013

This past Easter, the newly elected Pope Francis made waves by choosing to spend Maundy Thursday washing the feet of young prisoners in a juvenile detention center in Rome.

The pontiff’s decision to visit those behind bars during Holy Week reflects an Easter tradition that has been observed at Prison Fellowship for 35 years. This year, Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske continued the practice begun by Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, leading staff and volunteers to the Central Florida Reception Center prison in Orlando and the Desoto Correctional Institution in Arcadia, Florida, for celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection.

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Watch and Pray

By Prison Fellowship | Posted March 28, 2013

Easter is almost here! Will you keep watch and pray with us?

Carrying on a tradition started by Chuck Colson in the earliest days of Prison Fellowship, President Garland Hunt and CEO Jim Liske will lead teams of staff, volunteers, and supporters to celebrate the Resurrection with prisoners this Easter weekend. Please join us with your prayers using the prayer guide below.

  • Pray for protection. Ask God to protect the health and safety of the teams traveling to Florida and Texas, and also ask Him to prevent any security problems at the prisons. A violent incident or a security breach could shut down an entire prison, preventing us from sharing the Gospel with prisoners.
  • Pray that the Church inside the walls would be encouraged, and that we would all expect the Spirit of God to move, generating revival inside the prisons we visit.
  • Pray the prisoners’ hearts would be receptive to the Gospel, and that many would turn their lives over to Jesus or renew a prior commitment to follow Him wholeheartedly.
  • Pray that correctional staff would also be moved by the power of God’s love to change lives.
  • Pray for God to use the speakers at each event in a powerful way, so that the message of Easter would be communicated clearly and simply.

Thank you for joining us by your prayers and support! Please check back with us on the Prison Fellowship blog or on Facebook to see pictures and hear stories of how God moved over Easter weekend.

Recidivism – A Matter of the Mind?

By Steve Rempe | Posted March 28, 2013

Cerebral_lobesCan science determine an inmate’s propensity to re-offend? A new study suggests that by scanning a portion of the brain associated with decision-making, scientists are able to determine which prisoners are likely to be arrested again.

A team of neuroscientists from the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, examined 96 male inmates preparing for release in two state prisons.  Particular attention was paid to the anterior cingulate cortex, which is related to decision-making and impulse control.  Low activity in this region of the brain correlated to an inability to control one’s behavior.  Previous studies have indicated that inmates with reduced levels of activity in the anterior cingulate cortex are twice as likely to be rearrested within four years of release as those with relatively high activity, all other factors taken into account.

“This is an exciting new finding,” says Essi Viding, professor of developmental psychopathology at University College in London. “Interestingly this brain activity measure appears to be a more robust predictor, in particular of non-violent offending, than psychopathy or drug use scores, which we know to be associated with a risk of reoffending.”

The scientists are careful not to propose any policy as a result of their research, acknowledging that there are other factors that might have an impact on anterior cingulate cortex activity, and that more research is required to fully understand the correlation between those levels of activity and recidivism.

As interesting as this research may be, it is important to remember that, at its heart, the issue of criminal behavior is more a matter of the soul than the mind.  While there may be physical and biological factors that impact a person’s decision-making, it is our sinfulness – a condition known to us all – that ultimately leads us to act in ways that bring harm to ourselves and others, and grieve God.

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Building up the Body

By Jim Liske | Posted March 27, 2013

photo-jimThis Sunday Prison Fellowship will celebrate the Resurrection with services behind bars. Some prisoners will be hearing the Gospel for the very first time, and my prayer is that their hearts will be softened as they listen. Others will already know the Gospel. They are members of the Church inside the walls.

“Barry” is one of those Christian prisoners. Recently he wrote to say:

The book cart was wheeled by my door one Saturday. On the top I saw a book laying on its side with the title Born Again. I had never read this book before so I asked for it. I began reading it and could not put it down! … Even though my prison experience is over 30 years apart from Mr. Colson, he described what I was experiencing very accurately! Like Mr. Colson, I tried to run my life using pride, greed, control, and lust until I self-destructed by my choices. I was surrounded by godly men who counseled, encouraged, supported, and loved me all the way to the court room. They helped to steer me back to Jesus where I found grace, mercy, forgiveness, and repentance. Now that I have been rescued and set free … I am focusing on studying the Bible and sharing my faith while God shapes me into the vessel he wants me to be.

There are many men and women – the Chuck Colsons of a new generation – working out their salvation behind bars. Please join me in prayer that our visit will empower them and sustain them as they seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus to their fellow inmates – not just on Easter Sunday, but every day of the year.

Inmates to Screen Movie “Unconditional” over Easter Weekend

By Steve Rempe | Posted March 22, 2013

UnconditionalBeginning Easter weekend, Prison Fellowship and Provident Film will offer inmates a chance to view the new film Unconditional, the inspiring story of “Papa Joe” Bradford, a former inmate who is making a difference in the lives of at-risk youth in Nashville, Tennessee.

The film will be shown on March 30 at Orlando’s Central Florida Reception Center and March 31 at the Desoto Correctional Institution in Arcadia, Florida, a part of Easter celebrations in the two facilities.  Both “Papa Joe” and Prison Fellowship Ministries CEO Jim Liske will be present for the viewing.

A young African American with unlimited potential, Joseph Bradford landed in prison among violent offenders after putting his considerable computer skills to work hacking into a bank and robbing it of about $200 (which he paid back). Released, in kidney failure, on disability and living in Nashville’s notorious projects, Bradford and his wife’s hearts were touched by the many fatherless children around them. Simple acts of kindness brought one after another of these kids to their door. They formed a choir for the kids and soon he was their “Papa Joe,” providing the love and stability he never knew. Today, they continue this work through Elijah’s Heart Ministry, showing love to underprivileged children and their families, assisting them with practical needs and inspiring others to act by raising awareness of these often-desperate situations.

For more information about Easter celebrations at Central Florida Reception Center and Desoto Correctional Institution, read the press release here.  To learn more about the movie Unconditional, visit http://www.unconditionalthemovie.com/.

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.

pope_francis_foot_washing

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.




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