Audrey Fay isn’t sure what prevented her from committing suicide.
“I had traveled a long, lonely road,” she remembers.
Trying to hide the anger and pain she felt, she focused on pleasing the people around her. She did everything that was asked of her, hoping others’ approval would fill the emptiness inside.
“Instead,” she says, “it almost drove me off a cliff.”
Audrey began embezzling money from her employer so that she could meet the expectations she felt from her family, co-workers, and friends. She lived a lie, trapped in the web of her own deceit. She became deeply depressed and thought about taking her own life. When she couldn’t take the strain anymore, she walked into her boss’ office and told him what she had done.
“They say the truth sets you free, and it does,” reflects Audrey, “but first I had to go prison.”
Six Days in the Dark
Under a plea agreement, she was sentenced to a two-year term of which she did 13 months. From the county jail, she was sent to Valley State Prison, which at the time was a women’s prison—in central California—just days before Thanksgiving 2004. She had never been to prison before. On her first night, her cellmate was sent to the hospital with a sudden illness. Then someone down the hall tried to light a cigarette and blew a circuit. The entire unit sat in the dark while rain poured down outside. Audrey sat in her unlit room for six long days and nights. She was alone, except for the rat that scurried in and out.
The only things in Audrey’s room were a Bible and a Prison Fellowship pamphlet explaining God’s plan of forgiveness. She picked them up and began to read. Her internal conflict built. She wanted to know God, but she had questions.
On the sixth night, she called out to God. She asked Him to save her from the life she was leading and take her as His child. She even prayed that He would make the lights come back on, and that the rat would disappear.
The next day, the lights finally came back on, and she never saw the rat again. It was then that she knew that God had heard her, and she would never be the same person.
Upon her release in 2005, Audrey went home to her husband, Jeff, who had also become a Christian. They started attending church together and volunteering in their local community.
A New Life Path
While Audrey was in prison, Jeff visited her regularly. Whenever he sat in the visiting room, he was moved with compassion for the other women, most of whom never received visitors.
“Someone has to go to them,” he said. So after Audrey was released, he got involved with Prison Fellowship’s in-prison ministry, volunteering on Friday nights at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Corcoran, California.
But Audrey wasn’t ready to go back into the prison environment.
In March 2007, Jeff was transferred to Los Angeles for his job, and Audrey came with him, continuing to work for the same commercial real estate broker who had employed her during the work-release phase of her incarceration.
In December 2008, Jeff and Audrey delivered a Christmas gift to a prisoner’s family through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program. Though she had always hesitated to share her own prison experiences, Audrey knew she had to comfort the family. Her story seemed to come pouring out. As she felt the freedom to talk about the past, she knew it was time to face her other biggest fear.
As they pulled away from the curb she asked Jeff, “Are you ready?”
“For what?” he said.
“For how God is going to move us this coming year,” she replied.
“I don’t want to move; I like it here,” her confused spouse responded.
“Not physically!” Audrey said. “Spiritually. God is calling us to do prison ministry together.”
Jeff used to be a race car driver, and he tends to drive quickly, but he was so excited that he stopped the car in the middle of the road. He turned to Audrey and said, “Look where we are.”
They were right in front of the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a prison for men.
Ready to Face the Past
Jeff and Audrey began to go into prison together in 2009. They volunteered for Prison Fellowship’s multi-year, seminary-level program that equips prisoners to become Christian leaders behind bars and back in their communities after they are released. The growth of the program at CRC allowed for another class to open, and Jeff and Audrey began facilitating their own class in November 2009.
Audrey joined the staff of Prison Fellowship in 2012 and is now the organization’s field director in Southern California. Though she once resisted the idea of going back into prison, she now spends all her time helping men and women behind bars find the same hope she discovered in a dark cell.
Audrey says, “As I accepted Christ’s forgiveness and learned to forgive myself, I stopped looking to other people to make me feel loved and valued. Instead, God’s love has enabled me to truly start focusing on others and what I can do for them. As Jeff and I serve together, every blessing we pour out comes back to us 100-fold.”