“It’s not going to last very long.”
That’s what everyone said about Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) – a values-based prisoner reentry program drawn from the life and teachings of Christ – when it started in Lino Lakes, Minn. The inmates who signed up met in the basement. They had no books but a few Bibles, some borrowed and some torn in half, so that more men could read them.
Ten years later, the doubters are silent. The same men who studied borrowed Bibles in a prison basement are now free and living productive lives – graduates of the program have a remarkably low recidivism rate. The Lino Lakes IFI is out of the basement, too. The program has its own building and a beautiful chapel. Recently I was there for a graduation ceremony and anniversary celebration.
At the ceremony someone recalled IFI’s difficult early days, when the students were getting flack from their fellow inmates. One day, eight IFI students were on the prison yard, feeling depressed. One student remembered that when David felt downcast, he sang. So all eight men started singing praises to God – right there on the yard. They got funny looks, to say the least.
“But now,” the man rejoiced, “when we sing, everyone sings with us.”
These men, who had been rejected by the culture and the community, are having a lasting impact for good. They are changing the culture of the prison – and their communities on the outside. The doubters may have said IFI wouldn’t last at Lino Lakes, but it’s doing more than survive – as God works through the time, prayers, and financial gifts of friends like you, it’s making a difference for all eternity.