Denise Harris is the field director for Prison Fellowship in Detroit, Michigan.
On a beautiful summer day, nearly 70 former prisoners, mentors, and Prison Fellowship staff descended upon the rolling hills of the Colombiere Conference and Retreat Center in Clarkston, Michigan, for a day they’d never forget.
A former residence for Jesuit priests, Colombiere’s peaceful environment was well-suited for this special day of inspiration and encouragement. The theme of the fourth-annual retreat was “Legacy: Planting Seeds of Hope.” We designed the event to show men and women that their past does not have to dictate their future, and that with the Lord’s help, they can make a difference now and for future generations.
After singer and songwriter Therese Maynard led a time of music and worship, we welcomed participants to come forward and tell those assembled how God has been working in their lives. One man named Willie shared that he had been incarcerated for 30 years and would be getting baptized that next day (Father’s Day) at Hope Community Church—one of Prison Fellowship’s bridge churches in Detroit. Another man named Ulysses ecstatically shared how he had only been out of prison for 10 days but was excited to see what the Lord had in store. Rosalyn and Pamela, graduates of Prison Fellowship’s pre-release class at Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility, expressed how the classes, mentors, and churches encouraged them on their spiritual journey and helped them get through the difficult times of reentry.
Mary Engle, regional director for Prison Fellowship, expressed her excitement for seeing old friends and many new faces at the retreat. She shared that she hoped our participants would leave refreshed, and she reminded them that they were not walking this path alone. She then introduced keynote speaker Rocco Morelli.
An ex-mafia member who gave his life to Christ, Rocco is now part of a ministry called Goodfellas for God. Rocco presented a video testimony of his Christian conversion showing how God had transformed his life. Attendees hung on his every word as he chronicled his journey from serving the godfather to serving God the Father.
After lunch, a panel of former prisoners discussed the challenges that come with establishing a successful life outside of prison. The participants were all former prisoners who have excelled after their release—directors of non-profits, entrepreneurs, businessmen, and even one who is now a pastor. They shared their reentry experiences—how their families suffered, the difficulty of finding employment, the Lord’s faithfulness, and the help they received from churches and Prison Fellowship.
After the panel discussion, attendees had a chance to reflect on everything they had seen and heard and were encouraged to take a nature walk on the grounds of Colombiere. Field director Chip Hackney directed a tour of the Stations of the Cross located at the beginning of the trail. He encouraged participants to think about what Christ had done in their lives and the legacy they would leave.
Musicians Dray Hill and AaronG performed later in the day. Dray’s song, “Real Christians (Please Stand Up)” brought the crowd to its feet, and AaronG moved the audience with “Since I Met You,” a song telling how God has changed his life.
The day ended with a commissioning prayer by Rocco. The men and women left the retreat feeling that the Lord had done something amazing. It was truly an extraordinary day of hope that will not soon be forgotten.