It is an unfortunate and sad reality that we live in a world with limited resources. Sometimes that means that meaningful programs and projects are discontinued for a want of funding or manpower. But when God is at the heart of an endeavor, we know that ultimately all things will work together for His good.
From 2006 to 2011, Prison Fellowship operated its InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program at the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Wrightsville Unit. During those five years, the reentry program, based on the life and teachings of Jesus, served over 200 men and nearly 100 women in the two Wrightsville facilities. Many of these men and women went on to begin new lives in their communities and with their families, giving Prison Fellowship and IFI much of the credit for their transformation.
Unfortunately, a decrease in funding necessitated the closing of the IFI program at Wrightsville in 2011. But the end of that program didn’t mean that God had stopped working in the lives of those inside that prison.
When IFI ceased operations, participants and supporters of the ministry asked Scott McLean, then the director of IFI, to continue serving the men in the Wrightsville Unit. The result was the creation of Pathway to Freedom, a new not-for-profit organization dedicated to continuing the work begun by Prison Fellowship and IFI.
“”I thought we were going to have more time to make the transition,” McLean says of the launch of the new ministry in an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but I had to come out of that meeting and hit the ground running.”
Today, Pathway to Freedom serves over 200 prisoners at the facility, pairing the men with outside mentors who prepare them for reentry through life-skills and parenting classes, substance abuse education, and Bible study.
Among the program’s biggest supporters is the director of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, Wendy Kelley. “[Pathway to Freedom] provides the tools and a mentor to ensure there isn’t an excuse for failure,” she says. “The inmates who graduate that program have made lifelong changes, and that is a tremendous accomplishment. The importance of the dedicated staff and volunteers in that program can’t be stressed enough.”
“I’m excited about the direction of Pathway to Freedom and of the passion and commitment of the Correction Department and Gov. Asa Hutchinson,” McLean says.
There are several success stories mentioned in the Democrat-Gazette piece, and more on the Pathway to Freedom website. Each speaks of the importance of the ministry in changing not only their behavior, but their hearts, their thoughts, and their motivations.
“”Prison is the perfect construction zone,” says 33-year-old Chip Lockwood, who is serving a sentence on drug charges. “I thought I was so far gone, but this program changes you to the core. Now I want to leave here and be the best husband, the best father, the best businessman that I can be. This is God’s reward. Your choices are your character, and your choices are your future.”
It is a great encouragement to know that God continues working in the lives of those society too often labels as “so far gone.” If you would like to be a part of what God is doing at the Wrightsville Unit, visit the Pathway to Freedom website. And to find out how you can get involved with Prison Fellowship in your community, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved.