"We don't just go to prison and get saved and have a ‘jailhouse religion,’" says Monroe Jennings, 60. "We get out and we live for God. And I'm an example that—by His grace—you can do this. By the grace of God."
Today, Monroe Jennings is a hardworking member of the community in Cecilia, Louisiana. He has a steady job as a prosthetist and is also the pastor of Cecilia Christian Fellowship. But Monroe hasn't always lived a stable life.
A LIFE OF CHAOS AND VIOLENCE
"I came from a good, middle-class family," Monroe says, "but I enjoyed the action of the streets."
Growing up in what he describes as a "violent city" in Ohio, Monroe spent most of his youth fighting and committing crimes. He met and married a young woman named Francine, but his violent lifestyle prevented him from settling down.
"I knew she was the one for me as soon as I met her," Monroe remembers, "but my life wasn't in order, and she couldn't stand my lifestyle."
DIVORCED AND INCARCERATED
Looking for more discipline in his life, Monroe joined the Army. Stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana, he hoped to be a better husband and father, but his old habits returned. On weekends, he'd spend his time robbing stores and drug dealers.
"He got off [on] the wrong track, hanging with the wrong crowd," shares Francine. "[He was] out drinking and partying, staying out late—staying out two or three days at a time."
The marriage wasn't working, and so Francine chose to divorce her husband.
"She did the right thing, because I wasn't good for her [and] her life," Monroe says.
During the divorce process, Monroe was arrested. He would end up serving a total of 14 years behind bars between 1977 and 1993.
A SECOND CHANCE FOR LOVE, LIFE, AND OTHERS
During his incarceration, Monroe repented of his sins and chose to follow Jesus Christ. He attended Prison Fellowship® seminars and classes and learned valuable principles that he uses still today. After he left prison for the second time in 1993, Monroe found a job working in prosthetics and orthotics.
"I'm helping people get their lives back by designing braces, fabricating braces for their legs and helping with prosthetics," Monroe says.
Originally connected with the company through a temp service, Monroe would prove his talent and diligence. He was soon asked to join the team full time. His manager, Darryl Cox, explains, "Through Christ all things are possible. It was the Lord that led me to him, led him to us."
Darryl pauses, overwhelmed with emotion for Monroe, before adding, "We've been very close ever since then. The Lord has put us together. … I believed he had become a Christian and that [his past] was behind him."
Francine also saw a change in Monroe. She and Monroe reconnected 18 years after their divorce and remarried in 2013. "His life has totally changed, he's a different man now," she says of Monroe. "I'm more in love with him than ever."
WALKING IN FREEDOM
For Monroe, all of this is possible because of God. "I truly enjoy my relationship with the Lord," he says. "I'm blessed—I'm blessed with a good wife, good family, good children, and the Lord has blessed me to be a pastor of a church."
Monroe is also involved in prison ministry. He returns to prison to minister to those he once was like, and to encourage them that through a relationship with God, they too can be transformed.
"Sometimes I wake up and I just look at the freedom I walk in, and I thank God," says Monroe.
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