With one terrible choice, Reggie Holmes' world suddenly seemed to have ended. But with the help of Prison Fellowship's® year-long reentry program at James River Correctional Center, Reggie was given the opportunity to make a fresh start.
Peggy Holmes, a disabled single mother, forbade her only child, Reggie, to step off the front porch. Shootings and drugs had made their Richmond, Virginia, neighborhood perilous.
When he and his mother weren’t at church, Reggie didn't mind keeping to his room. Shy and small, he found himself alternately bullied and left out by other kids. He usually buried his feelings of rejection.
In the safety of his bedroom, he built electric train sets, and he broke his typical silence by belting along to a karaoke machine. He liked best Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," a song about a boy, a mother's warning, and innocence lost.
Just before Reggie's 16th birthday, his vigilant mother succumbed to breast cancer, and "everything changed," he recounts quietly.
He moved in with his aunt. Before long, he stopped attending church regularly and drifted into bad company.
"I started smoking and drinking," he remembers. Still stung by his childhood rejection, he would attempt almost anything to please his peers.
When Reggie took part in a botched prank-turned-robbery, he knew things had gone too far.
On that nightmarish day, remembers Reggie, "Things were going through my mind, like, If I don't do this, they'll call me a punk. I had a chance to walk away. But for some reason I went along."
A week after the incident, police arrested Reggie in front of coworkers at a restaurant. "It was very scary . . . and embarrassing," he recalls.
After being convicted, Reggie was sentenced to three years and four months.
Prison terrified him. "I was very scared to go into jail for the first time. You see prison movies, and you think the same things are going to happen to you, too."
A DEAD END TO A NEW BEGINNING
With one terrible choice, Reggie's world suddenly seemed to have ended.
But halfway through his sentence, at the suggestion of another inmate, Reggie applied for and was accepted to Prison Fellowship's year-long reentry program at James River Correctional Center.
"I couldn't wait to get started," he remembers.
On the first day of the program, participants met with Joyce Minor, field director for Prison Fellowship® in Virginia, and the volunteer instructors.
"It felt really special to know that they wanted to help us," says Reggie. "We hadn't gotten to feel that way in a while."
During the program, Reggie and his classmates benefited from spiritual and life-skills instruction five days a week.
"You could see the progress in us as participants," he marvels. "We started to change as time went on." He credits that progress to "amazing" volunteer instructors who helped him comprehend God's love.
FINDING COMMON GROUND
In 2009 Joyce connected Reggie with his mentor, Stephan Hicks. Stephan was released from prison a decade ago, after having come to faith through the example of Christian cellmates. Because he had also experienced the fear of incarceration and the challenges of release, he found it easy to relate to Reggie.
After their initial meeting, the two men met once a month. Stephan encouraged Reggie and helped him define and pursue his post-imprisonment goals.
When Stephan got out of prison, he recalls that, "No one greeted me. I did not know where I was going." He liaised with Reggie's family to ensure a different experience for Reggie—two carloads of welcoming relatives who descended on the James River parking lot.
Since Reggie's September 2009 release, his mentor has stayed close. Stephan attended Reggie's first meeting with his probation officer, found him clothes to wear to his baptism, and even provides premarital counseling to Reggie and his fiancée, Stacy, who plan to wed in 2011.
'I JUST DO 'ME''
Reggie has found a church home, Tabernacle of Praise, where he runs the sound board. When he worked up the courage to confess his past to the pastor, he found grace instead of judgment. And as he experiences full acceptance in relationships, Reggie has also begun to lose his reticence.
In recent months he has spoken on a radio show and addressed pastors at a Prison Fellowship conference. He also made himself heard in the search for employment. Despite ten months of refusals and dead ends, Reggie persevered with repeated follow-up phone calls to potential employers. Recently he landed a position as a fast-food line cook, a job that complements his ongoing training in culinary arts.
The bright spots in Reggie's new life don’t stop with engagement, schooling, and employment. He also graduated from Quest for Authentic Manhood, a 24-week course teaching application of biblical principles in relationships and work. It also reinforced an important lesson Reggie learned at James River—that, in Christ, he can resist the pressures of his peer group.
When asked if he ever feels tempted to return to his old lifestyle, Reggie answers adamantly, "It never enters my mind anymore at all to go back ... I want to be out for life."
Reggie's former probation officer, Angela Kelchner, believes he will succeed. "[Reggie] is at the point now where he is no longer the person he was then," she explains. "Most people can't ever get past going to prison and getting bad cards, but Reggie has superseded all that."
"Now," says Reggie, "I don't really think about what other people think about me. I just do 'me.' I base my life on what God wants me to be."
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