The newly announced president and CEO of Prison Fellowship, James Ackerman, was recently interviewed on WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa. During the program, Ackerman described to host Jamie Johnson the work of Prison Fellowship, and how he came to be involved with prison ministry.
Ackerman said he remembered being struck by two things following his first visit to a prison. “The first was—and this is going to sound kind of like a statement of the obvious, but it wasn’t to me—that these people matter,” he said. “They are people. They have lives, they have ambitions, they have passions, and we need to invest in their lives.
“But the other thing that struck me was that Prison Fellowship’s program was so effective that it was truly transforming people’s lives.” Ackerman recounted leaving Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative unit at the Newton (IA) Correctional Facility, which was clean and where the prisoners were courteous, to tour the rest of the facility. “It could have not been more different,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that Prison Fellowship’s investment in these lives was really causing real, permanent change.”
An example of that real, permanent change then joined the program.
“Bill” a former member of the InnerChange program at the very prison Ackerman had visited many years before, called to tell how he had been impacted by it. “If it was not for that program … I’d still be in prison,” he said. “I spent 18 years going in and out of prison. I was a bad drug addict, and I would do whatever it took to get my drugs,” he remembered. “… They taught me how to live, how to not to think of everything as mine.”
“[The director of the IFI program] said, ‘you know, you’ve got a hole, right in the middle of your heart, and that hole, you’re trying to fill it with drugs, sex, money, whatever it is.'” Bill said that after this hole was filled by the Holy Spirit, he has stayed off drugs for the last 17 years.
“Bill is describing exactly the experience that so many inmates have,” Ackerman replied. “… But what happened when Bill went through that heart transformation, when he let the Holy Spirit into his heart, is his heart changed to one that’s orientated toward love, instead of one that’s orientated to scheming. And that alone makes Bill a much more productive member of society.”
When asked if the program would have had the same success without having God as a part of it, Bill replied, “Probably not. I had to have the change first with God, and then this program had show me a different way to live.”
“I’ve got a life now, and I wouldn’t have had it without that program,” Bill concluded.
Bill’s story is one of many from individuals who have experienced profound transformation while in prison as a part of Prison Fellowship’s in-prison programming. Through the work of Prison Fellowship staff and thousands of volunteers across the country, lives are being changed and families are being restored.
To learn more about the work being done in correctional facilities across the country, and how you can be a part of stories like Bill’s, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/action.