At his graduation from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, John Alarid stood out from his fellow classmates. It wasn’t his height or demeanor that separated him, nor was it something pithy and entertaining written in tape on his graduation cap. Rather, it was the orange prison jumpsuit he was wearing when he got up to address those assembled for the ceremony.
The jumpsuit served as a reminder for Alarid of where he had been. Raised in a family of missionaries serving in Latin America, Alarid turned to drugs and alcohol soon after his parents’ divorce. He became a drug dealer to support his own drug habit, eventually being arrested and being sentenced to eight years behind bars for attempted murder after “a drug deal gone wrong.”
A five-month stay in solitary confinement turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Alarid. “I had a spiritual awakening and surrendered my life to God,” he told those gathered at the ceremony. “For me, that is Jesus Christ.”
Upon his release, Alarid enrolled at Central Bible College in Springfield. “That’s the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done,” he remembers in an interview with the Springfield News-Leader. “Here I am, mid- to late 30’s, going into a Bible school with a bunch of kids that grew up in church, you know what I mean? … I’ve been in the worst prison in the United States. That doesn’t scare me—running the streets with the cartels, moving large amounts of dope—but going into Bible school with a bunch of kids that have their lives together? I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it.”
Not only did Alarid make it, he returned to school after earning his bachelor’s degree to pursue a master’s degree, which he received on May 7.
Today, Alarid preaches the Gospel to drug addicts, former prisoners, and other seekers as lead pastor at CityReach Church. He also volunteers with Prison Fellowship, proclaiming God’s love for those who are incarcerated. Recently, Alarid and his church have opened faith-based “recovery homes” for men and women returning from prison or struggling with addiction.
Midway through Alarid’s commencement address, seminary president Dr. Mark Hausfield joined Alarid on stage, covering his orange prison jumpsuit with the black gown worn by his fellow graduates. “That’s what it’s all about,” Hausfield said in his remarks later in the ceremony, “From prison, a transformation to greater things.”
Prison Fellowship believes that all lives are intended by God for great things. With the help of volunteers and churches who have heeded the biblical call to “remember the prisoner,” Prison Fellowship is seeing lives and families being restored and transformed. To learn more about volunteer opportunities in prisons and communities around the country, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/action.