"My name is Jose, and I spent 10 months in Rikers Island."
Jose grew up in a large family in Queens. His mother, a housekeeper, worked hard to provide for her four daughters and four sons after the family immigrated from Nicaragua in the '80s.
"My dad wasn't around because he stayed back in [Nicaragua]," Jose shares. "He didn't want to come here."
Jose's father, a pilot, didn't like the idea of having to start from scratch in the United States.
"Growing up, I felt like he always could make an effort to come here," Jose says, "but you know he never did."
The absence of Jose's father affected the choices he made growing up.
LIFE AT RIKERS ISLAND
Those choices led Jose to Rikers Island, New York City's infamous jail. Rikers was a dangerous place when Jose arrived, but amid the darkness, he found a light shining: Prison Fellowship®.
Through Prison Fellowship's staff and volunteers, Jose met Jesus. For six months, he participated in the Prison Fellowship Academy, during which he learned about Angel Tree®.
Angel Tree is a Prison Fellowship program that serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families. Every Christmas, Angel Tree mobilizes local churches and organizations to minister to hundreds of thousands of children by delivering a gift, the Gospel message, and a personal message of love on behalf of their mom or dad behind bars.
"I never told my son … that I was in prison or jail," Jose explains. "My son was disappointed in me because … I had told him that I would never leave him alone, and I did."
But after his son received his present through Angel Tree, the 10-year-old gave his father a second chance.
'FOR TWO MINUTES, I FELT FREE'
"The people who deliver those gifts … [they] donate their time and their gas and their time being with their families after work—I really do appreciate that family [that delivered gifts to mine]," Jose says. "If I were to know who they were, then I would thank them for doing what they do."
For Jose, incarcerated and unable to reach out to his son, Angel Tree made a such a difference.
"While I was in Rikers—being incarcerated being in the darkest place—for those two minutes that Angel Tree gave a gift to my son, I felt like it was coming from me. I felt like I was free."
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