A former prisoner who claims that the InnerChange Freedom Initiative® “literally saved my life” now volunteers to help other offenders experience God’s transforming love and power.
It’s 4:30 a.m., and Bernard’s Houston home is silent—except for the sound of his voice. “I have my own song to the Lord that I sing,” says Bernard. This song prepares his heart for a daily half hour of prayer before the 45-minute drive to work, which he uses as a time to meditate and listen to God.
Bernard Veal, 58, has been an inside sales representative for Trident Steel for nine years, and he spends his days meeting with machine shop representatives.
The circle is only one way that Bernard shares his fervor for the Lord. “Wednesday, perhaps, is one of my favorite days,” says Bernard with a hint of excitement in his voice. He leads a Bible study at Second Baptist Church on Wednesday morning and another at Evangelist Temple Church of God in Christ on Wednesday night.But Monday and Friday mornings are different from all others at Trident. “Before work we have a huge prayer circle,” says Bernard. He leads the circle with a friend from church, who wanted to provide his colleagues with an opportunity for prayer in the secular workplace. “Our vice president has even come a few times,” says Bernard.
Through Prison Fellowship’s reentry program, the Inner Change Freedom Initiative® (IFI), Bernard mentors three ex-prisoners. He also serves on the South Texas Ministry Leadership Team to promote awareness and raise funds for IFI. On Thursdays he facilitates small-group discussions on victim awareness in the Carol Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas—prison home of the Texas IFI program.
In 2003 Bernard and two IFI graduates met with then-President Bush to unveil a study about the positive effect that IFI has on America’s recidivism rate. And last year, in recognition of his volunteer work with Prison Fellowship, Bernard won a Shining Star Award and a trip to PF’s national office for the awards ceremony.
While Bernard shares the Gospel during in-prison visits, he says, “I also share it here at work.” Because Houston is “a high crime area,” he knows a number of people from church and work who have friends or family in prison. In fact, “there are people here [at work] who have been incarcerated.”
Actually, Bernard himself is one of those people who have spent time in prison. But, he points out, “it’s not a bad thing to have been incarcerated if the Lord has changed your life”—and that is exactly what God has done for him. Bernard says, “Yes, I’m ashamed of the man who caused me to become incarcerated, but I’m not ashamed of the man that I’ve become as a result of being incarcerated.”
A Downward Spiral
Bernard grew up in Chicago, and in 1969 left for Paul Quinn College in Dallas. In 1974 he married his college sweetheart, Angela, and landed a job in real estate. Bernard and Angela had two daughters—Brittany in 1979 and Brinee in 1983. Later that year, Angela was diagnosed with cervical cancer and passed away in 1987.
That’s when Bernard’s “life turned topsy turvy,” he says. A friend introduced him to cocaine, and that first use mushroomed into a full-blown addiction. Realizing he couldn’t be a proper father, he sent Brittany and Brinee to live with their grandmother in Mobile, Alabama. “I remember boarding them on the airplane . . . they began to scream ‘Daddy!’ and I couldn’t do anything but continue to walk away.”
In 1992 Bernard’s boss called him into his office and asked, “How can you go from one of the top producers nationwide to doing practically nothing?” A week later, Bernard was fired. “My whole life was clouded,” he says. Six months later Bernard was arrested.
“IFI Literally Saved My Life”
Three years into his five-year sentence, the chaplain at Bernard’s unit called him and another prisoner into his office to tell them they had been picked to join the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at Carol Vance, a new faith-based unit outside of Houston. “It was an answered prayer,” says Bernard. “At that point I was into the Word, and I just knew that being around Christian men and women, I would gain something.” He quickly accepted the offer, looking forward to the spiritual growth ahead of him.
Soon after starting IFI at Carol Vance in 1997, Bernard was reading his Bible in his cell. “I just opened it up, and my eyes fell onto this verse: ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.’ ” Bernard says, “God was speaking to me because, had I not been in prison, I wouldn’t have known Him in a personal way.” Soon afterward, Bernard “just surrendered” to God.
After his release in 1998, Bernard stayed with a friend and got a job as a window salesman. He visited Evangelist Temple Church of God In Christ—the church of his IFI mentor, Bishop Rufus Kyles—and “fell in love with the flavor of it.”
A Chance to Restart
In 2000 Bernard was excited to start his job at Trident. Some professionals “said I would never be able to go back to the corporate world, but a guy from church who was a warehouse manager there touched the vice president’s heart,” says Bernard.
In 2001 Bernard married Margaret, a woman he met at church a month after his release. Brittany stayed in Mobile to attend college, while Brinee moved in with Bernard, Margaret, and her daughters—Stephanie and Kourtney. “God restored me to my children and gave me two more children,” Bernard says thankfully.
“My dad is the salt and the light of the Earth, and I can truly say that now,” says Brittany, now a 30-year-old teacher in Miami. “He wants to use his story as a ministry. He can say to them, ‘I know where you are,’ and he really has been there.”
Bernard recalls his favorite volunteering memory: During a prison visit, an inmate said to him, “You give us hope because you made it on the outside with the Lord.”
To this day, Bernard continues the 5:00 a.m. prayer time that he began in the IFI program. “I never would have thought the life I have would have been possible,” says Bernard. “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds it.”