We arrived at the Sanders Estes Unit in Venus, Texas and pulled into a parking lot that could have been outside hundreds of correctional institutions all over the United States. The double fence, gates, razor-wired, small slit windows, and cold heavy doors were “standard issue.” We were greeted by the same standard procedure. No cell phones or wallets. Sign in, show your ID, and leave it with the guard. Enter through the double-lock doors.
The similarity to most prisons ended there.
As we walked down the corridors, we were greeted by the chaplain and the volunteers who are part of the “church” inside the walls of this “inmate community” in the middle of a Texas field. The faith-based dorm is the last stop for men preparing to be released within months. The inmates in this 40-man unit sleep, shower, learn, and congregate in this dorm while having their meals, other classes, and recreation along with the general population. Here in this unit the men are being prepared spiritual, emotionally, and socially to re-enter the society where they broke the law. Men who spend their last months of incarceration in a biblical worldview discipleship program are far less likely to come back to prison, and are far more likely to be productive citizens and dynamic followers of Jesus once they are released.
We spent our first 10 minutes meeting new friends, hearing brief stories, and finding our connection in Jesus. “Church” started and we worshipped. I was able to greet my new friends and newly found brothers in Jesus and encourage them from God’s Word. A volunteer teacher led a study on how to respond in a Christ-like manner to conflict, fear, and anger. This man—who serves just because he loves Jesus and these men—used God’s Word and solid, biblically-based study material to empower these men. It was a great, practical, meaningful, truth-filled “sermon” that these men absorbed as they took notes, asked questions, and learned. After a powerful prayer “church” was over and we said good bye.
Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers will follow these men as they exit the double-lock doors of prison, and will direct them to churches and programs that will help them stay out of prison. (We were even able to connect a man from Canada to PF in Ontario for re-entry support!) By God’s grace and with the care of the Body of Jesus, my new friends will leave their faith-based dorm—their church inside the walls—and find hope, healing, and health at “home.” Pray for them!
I met a young man who had served a total of 16 years in prisons in Texas. He has been incarcerated three times. This last time he found Jesus through the help of Prison Fellowship and our partners. I asked him if this would be his last time in prison? He replied, “Yes sir.” I asked him why this time would be different than the last two? He said, “Because this time I am following Jesus out!” How cool is that?!?! How important is building the church inside the walls of America’s Prisons? For this man is it the difference between freedom and being behind bars—spiritually and literally.
Thanks for all you do to make this all possible!