When I was 7, I watched my mother kill my father. I had to help her put him in the car.
He died on the way to the hospital. It was in self-defense, but I had to go to court. I had not taken on my height yet, so I had to be put on a pillow to tell the story. That was my first experience with the justice system.
SHOPLIFTING TO SURVIVE
When I was 9 years old, I shoplifted. The police were called; the police officer put me in the car, but he paid for the things that I stole and took me home. He gave me a lecture all the way there.
I was the oldest of 11 children, and I was always told I was responsible for helping them. So, I would take my siblings to funerals, not because we were grieving the dead, but because I discovered that they had food at funerals. And I did the shoplifting—things like bags of rice, or meat, or hairbands.
I stole to support me and to support them. If it was in walking distance of me, it was a target.
I just kept going on that cycle until I got arrested. When I was sitting in the county jail, I met a Prison Fellowship® volunteer who told me about Jesus. The volunteer helped me realize that it wasn't my responsibility to take care of my siblings. I knew that I could depend on God. I didn't have to be the savior. It freed me.
I stole to support me and to support my siblings.
If it was in walking distance of me, it was a target.
FINDING VALUE AND SELF-WORTH IN PRISON
I got a six-year sentence. I walked into the prison fearful, because of the things you hear about it. I had a plastic garbage bag with all my things in it. The bag burst, and all of my belongings fell out, and this big, tall officer called out, "Keep it moving, keep it moving!" You know, I kept it moving. I left the stuff.
Another officer came, who apparently was a Christian, with all of my belongings in another bag, put it at my feet, and just patted me on the shoulder. He never said a word.
In prison, Prison Fellowship offered classes like discipleship and life-skills training. The volunteers were key to restoration in my life. Seeing those volunteers come … most of them that came didn’t have a reason to come to prison. They had a heart for God, to please Him and do the work of missions. They gave their lives and their time to pour into those of us who by all means deserved to be there, because we had committed crimes.
Volunteers mean everything to me.
When you feel like you're worth nothing, you look around and you see volunteers from Prison Fellowship come, and all they see is value. And you are still trying to catch up to the level of what they see in you. They just keep pouring and they keep pouring. And you finally get to the place where you think, I do have some value.
Volunteers mean everything to me.
You feel like you're worth nothing, and all they see is value.
CROSSING THE BARRIERS
When I got out of prison, I was fearful again. When you are incarcerated, everybody is dictating to you 24/7. You don't have to think in prison. You don't need a brain. Somebody is telling you when to eat. You get programmed. When you get out, you have all these things to do, you have to make these decisions, and they're not always the right ones.
There were lots of barriers when I got out. Transportation. Housing. And people. At first there was a trust barrier. They had to watch me to see if I was what I said I was—a Christian. I absolutely felt like giving up. But I had made up my mind, of course with the help of the volunteers again, that if these people had taken the risk to pour into me, I was going to do whatever it took not to go back to prison.
So, I took every job. First, I was a housekeeper, and then I worked in a doctor's office filing charts. From that I actually got hired in an ob-gyn clinic and worked there for 27 years.
I got involved at a church called New Horizon International. I started volunteering to go back into prison to minister, and I organize Angel Tree® there. We serve hundreds of children every year.
I got married to a man named Fred. He also used to be in prison, so we have opened our home to about 20 former prisoners and helped others get back on their feet.
'IT'S A GOD THING'
The thing that I am most grateful for in my life today is having Jesus Christ leading me. Because I don’t know what I am doing, but I know that He does. He even led me into a job with Prison Fellowship as a field director in Mississippi. When I saw the job opening, I jumped at the chance. It's a dream.
It's just a God thing, that I could be in prison, then turn around, get out, and be working for a prison ministry. I am eternally grateful.
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