Only days before the scheduled evangelistic event, a correctional officer on the yard scheduled for the event had one request for Dave Dove, Prison Fellowship Area Director in California, “Can we please not do this event?”
According to Dove, this maximum security prison in California has one of the most active gang cultures of any prison in the state. While Prison Fellowship has been active at that prison for the past four years, leading Bible studies and seminary classes on various yards in the prison, ministry on Charlie yard has posed difficulties.
“While violence is decreasing at this prison, Charlie yard continues to be one of the most dangerous yards in the State.” Dove said. He explained that at one point several years ago, the yard was on lock-down for nearly 17-years. “They would let the guys out [onto the yard], somebody would get killed; and they would lock down the yard again.”
In spite of the history of Charlie yard, this past summer, Prison Fellowship secured permission to host a large evangelistic event on the yard for the very first time ever. Despite concerns from prison staff, the warden, a warden committed to changing the culture of his institution, told Dove that the event should proceed. Early on the morning of July 31, 60 volunteers appeared on the yard, hoping and praying for at least a few soft hearts among the crowd.
While the volunteers finished setting up the stage, the men were released onto the yard. As men cleared the security pat downs, they began to take positions across the field, affiliating into discrete groups.
“The northern Mexicans and the southern Mexicans, the Bloods, the Crips, the whites,” Dove remembered. “There was no mixing at all.”
The volunteers made sure to stay in their designated areas to keep from crossing into unspoken gang territory. And then, a remarkable thing happened–unnoticed by most of the volunteers busy setting up, but obvious to the staff.
One man from each of the groups came forward to the center of the yard. They talked, shook hands, and returned to their groups.
Dove later learned that each of the guys was the “shot caller,” the designated leader of each gang, and that they came together to agree to a voluntary truce, just for one day.
Throughout the day, Dove said, he saw a few members of different gangs mixing and interacting with volunteers. Many signed their children up to receive gifts through Angel Tree®. Even some of the nursing staff came onto the yard to see what was going on.
“The staff was surprised by what they experienced that day on Charlie yard,” Dove said.
Still, several months later, a riot involving nearly 100 men broke out on the yard. Many of the men that Dove and his volunteers had identified as potential leaders of the church on Charlie yard were involved.
“It’s real [spiritual] warfare,” Dove explained.
Please pray for the Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers who are committed to bringing the Gospel to places like Charlie yard. Please pray that God would open hearts to Jesus and the peace that only He can bring would be permanent.