In January of 1980, a friend suggested to Bob Clemens that he had a “rotten attitude” about prisoners, so he invited Bob to go into prison with him to see if it changed his thinking.
Bob did. And it did.
“My attitude of higher walls and bigger clubs was all wrong,” Bob says. “Just because people have done something that society needs to punish them for doesn’t change the fact that they are made in the image of God.”
Since that day, Bob has been a regular volunteer inside Minnesota prisons.
Visiting with the prisoners individually is not an option, however. “In Minnesota, if you are a ‘religious resource,’ you are not allowed to visit with prisoners one-on-one,” he says. “But we can hold Bible studies.”
Last year, Bob celebrated his 90th birthday inside Minnesota’s only level-five maximum-security prison, Oak Park Heights. Bob has led Bible studies there since the late 1990s.
One prisoner who has studied under Bob for more than 17 years says, “He’s taught me a great deal about being a real genuine man of God.”
Bob and his wife got to know Prison Fellowship founder, Chuck Colson, through events such as ministry fundraising dinners. Bob says he is a big fan of the intensive reentry programs Prison Fellowship runs in two Minnesota prisons and one Texas prison. He likes that the programs provide prisoners with mentors a year before their release.
After about 35 years of serving the incarcerated, Bob believes he has found the secret to prison ministry. “The most important thing we can do is walk alongside a prisoner when he or she gets out, for a year or two,” he says. “That’s when they really need us.”
If you’d like to learn how you can help support men and women transitioning from prison into your community, please take a look at these ways to get involved.