A version of the following interview originally appeared in Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s quarterly publication for men and women behind bars.
Nationwide, one out of every 28 kids has a parent behind bars, resulting in many separated families. Since 1982 Angel Tree, a Prison Fellowship program started by a former bank robber, has given parents an opportunity to restore and strengthen relationships with their children.
In 2015, more than 300,000 children were matched with local churches and organizations that gave children Christmas presents on behalf of parents behind bars. Each gift delivered to a child represents a complicated process—starting with incarcerated parents.
At every step of the process, Charles Rock, the national director of Angel Tree programs, makes sure the giant operation runs as smoothly as possible. Recently Charles shared his reflections on his job, and what fuels him to continue serving families of prisoners.
Your job has a lot of moving parts. How would you sum it up?
Charles: I oversee all of the operations and program development for Angel Tree. To be successful in my job is to have all of the eligible Angel Tree children assigned to a local church or organization.
What prepared you for this job?
Charles: I was with AOL previously for about 10 years. … Around 2009 I started to feel a tug to do something that matters. Success at AOL was measured on money generated, advertising, page views, that sort of thing. That’s fine. I wanted to do something else. The only job that came up that I was interested in was to be the national director for Angel Tree. The head hunter thought I was out of my mind; the pay was much lower. But I never wanted anything else. I really had to trust and lean on God.
How did you find out about Angel Tree?
Charles: I was already familiar with Chuck Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship. I had read some of his books. As soon as I found out about the position, I immersed myself in learning what Angel Tree is all about: restoring and strengthening prisoners’ families. I also became the coordinator the for Angel Tree program at my church. I’ve been doing that for five years. That’s given me a really good perspective on seeing the program from the ground and all the challenges associated with it—and the blessings as well.
Do you have kids, and do you ever imagine what would happen if you were incarcerated?
Charles: I have four kids, two boys and two girls. My kids are 16, 13, 11, and 8. There was a time in my earlier life when I was waiting to get caught, and I never was, and certainly I see a lot of me in this. It’s very easy to make bad choices and have these things happen. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your kids and that your kids don’t love you. You should be able to keep a connection.
Angel Tree is a lot of work—for volunteers and for you. To be blunt, what’s in it for you?
Charles: What’s in it for us is we are blessed beyond description to get to do this. That might be hard to get, but it’s true. I feel blessed because I am a dad, too, and I get to connect parents who love their children and children who love their parents. I get to be a pathway. That means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to all the folks involved in Angel Tree. I have a particular calling to do that because I am a parent, and because I understand. I have a couple folks in my family who have been incarcerated, and they have families as well.
Registration for Angel Tree Christmas 2016 has already begun. If your church or group would like to be a part of restoring families and sharing the Gospel with sons and daughters of incarcerated parents, visit www.angeltree.org/registration.