"Do you mean Jesus still loves me, despite all that I did in my past?" the prisoner standing next to me asked.
We were listening to a speaker share about his past drug offenses. It was a beautiful afternoon in April when the prisoners at Folsom State Prison heard this challenging message at the Good Friday Hope Event, a Prison Fellowship® event that brings the Gospel onto the prison yard.
"Absolutely," I quickly answered. The similarities between the speaker and the crowd were many—these were men who at one point in their lives had made poor choices and were still dealing with their consequences, both mentally and physically. Many were seeking a new way of life.
RELIEF FROM THE MUNDANE
A quick glance at the lineup for the day of speakers and music was reminiscent of any church revival or youth rally. And there was something to grab the attention of everyone—from a stand-up comedian to a show of strength by a man bending a steel rod in his teeth. To the hundreds of men behind the bars of Folsom, the presentation was welcome relief to a structured life of the mundane.
For those two short hours, the spirits of these prisoners were lifted beyond the walls of the more than 150-year-old facility that was made famous by Johnny Cash when he sang his "Folsom Prison Blues" at this historic institution in 1968.
FINDING CHRIST AT FOLSOM PRISON
After the entertainment, each prisoner was invited to walk forward and surrender their life to Christ—the only One who can bring them total forgiveness and transformation as Jesus welcomes them into His kingdom.
"My heart sings with joy when I see these men leave the comfort zone of their segregated racial groups and walk forward as new creatures in Christ—no longer having any barriers between them," said Fernando, a Prison Fellowship volunteer for the past five years.
One of the more than a hundred men who walked forward and gave his life to Christ was Josh. He's a California native who's served more than 10 years behind bars at Folsom.
"For the first time in years, I feel truly free," he said with tears in his eyes. "I can't thank Prison Fellowship enough for putting on this program and letting me meet Jesus. They even gave me my first Bible and a new study guide. I'm truly grateful to all of you!"
A DAY OF HOPE
As a Prison Fellowship staff member, this was my first Hope Event. I witnessed God moving in amazing ways that day in Folsom, and I walked away knowing that He uses this ministry to "[deliver] us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us" (2 Corinthians 1:10, NIV).
BRINGING HOPE TO THE HOPELESS
In prison yards across the country, men and women are being introduced to the hope of Jesus Christ through one- and two-day Prison Fellowship Hope Events that feature a variety of inspirational speakers and musicians. While providing a brief respite from the challenges of prison life, these events give prisoners the chance to respond to Christ and take the next step of joining a faith community behind bars.
Find out how you can bring hope to America's incarcerated by volunteering with Prison Fellowship!
Jim Forbes is the director of communications at Prison Fellowship®. Every day he works with local, state, regional, and national press organizations to promote Prison Fellowship and the work it does around the country.