"[Prison has] put a lot of pressure on me mentally, physically, emotionally, [and] spiritually," says Joseph Frisby, a man serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. "But you know, all I can say is by the grace of God I'm here today."
Joseph Frisby has served 25 years of his sentence so far, but the first years were the most difficult. "It was a hard adjustment for me because I had never been incarcerated before," he remembers. "Just to be honest with you, it was hard some days. Really hard."
At Salinas Valley State Prison in California, Joseph is immersed in the community of incarcerated Christians. He's a recent graduate of The Urban Ministry Institute, or TUMI, an intensive theological training course offered by Prison Fellowship® in conjunction with World Impact. And Joseph continues to participate by facilitating classes and mentoring the students. But it wasn't always this way.
"Well, 25 years ago, the system was a lot different. It was much more violent," Joseph says. "It's hard, but I believe that only through Christ you're able to stand up against that stuff."
Incarceration affected Joseph greatly. He found himself under pressure from his fellow prisoners to assimilate into the violent culture. His family couldn't fully grasp what Joseph was experiencing, which put a strain on his relationship with them.
ANGEL TREE NEVER FAILED
During his incarceration, Joseph discovered Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship that serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families.
"I have a 23-year-old son [that] I literally used the [Angel Tree] program for 17 years of his life," he says. "It never failed that somebody was there to reach out for my son. It was very important to me since I was unable to be there for him."
For incarcerated parents like Joseph, missing holidays and birthdays is one of the most painful consequences of their life choices. It can leave men feeling inadequate as parents, so to have a program available like Angel Tree can make such a difference. "To be able to have that capacity was awesome," Joseph says. "I know [my son] appreciated it. I spoke to him about it. It was awesome."
A FATHER'S PRAYER
"One of the greatest concerns of my heart was that my son would come to know Christ as his Savior, and that he doesn't end up on the path that I followed through drugs or drinking and end up ultimately in prison," Joseph says. "The worst thing I've ever seen is a father and son in the same prison cell."
But thanks to Angel Tree, other Prison Fellowship programs, and the impact of Jesus Christ on Joseph's life, he's seen an answer to that prayer.
"Approximately five years ago, my son gave his life to Christ, and God called him into ministry," Joseph says. "He's actually an intern pastor right now, [and is] planting a church in Fresno."
This development in his son's life gave Joseph a chance to bond with his son. While studying with TUMI, Joseph was able to share the material with his son. "Our conversations through visiting and through telephone are literally just about the Word of God, how much it's impacted him and my life," Joseph says. "I'm able to share with him and connect with him on a level that I hadn't thought possible."