I came from a middle-class family. I was always encouraged to do very well—to the point of being a perfectionist.
I didn't go to prison until I was 43 years old, on a charge of embezzlement. For three years I took money and I would give it to employees, do things for my children, other people. I felt if I was providing for them, they would love me and like me.
I finally confessed. I just couldn't deal with myself anymore. And I went to prison for 15 months.
A HARSH AWAKENING
When I first went to prison, I thought it was very harsh. It was an awakening. I was not used to being with individuals that really had no drive to do anything. No drive to change. No drive to be educated. It was like I had gone off into this alien world, and I had no idea what I was doing there.
I remember when I got to my cell, the only things that I could actually lift and move around were a Bible and a Prison Fellowship® pamphlet.
In this pamphlet, it talked about Chuck Colson, who had gone to prison for Watergate. So, I started reading it, and it talked about Chuck's transformation and how God had called him out from prison.
And then, I looked at the Bible. I had never really read the Bible, and it made no sense to me with all the thees and the thous, but I kept reading it. I had this pull, like I needed to surrender, but I didn't know what that meant.
For days, I wrestled with this.
I remember sitting on my bed and trying to read the Bible. The lights had gone out because someone blew a fuse, and there was this rat that would run on the floor.
On the sixth night, I finally just said, "If I surrender my life to You, will You turn the lights on in my cell, and will You send the rat away? And I will never turn back from You." And the next morning I woke up. The lights were on, I never saw the rat again, and I looked at this Bible and I went, "Whoa, this must work."
That was November 24, 2003.
I had never really read the Bible, and it made no sense to me … but I kept reading it.
I had this pull, like I needed to surrender, but I didn't know what that meant.
OVERCOMING SOCIAL STIGMA
When I got out on parole in 2005, true transformation had been happening to me while incarcerated. I no longer had hate for people. I was a different person and ready to live a different life.
Slowly, over the years, my family has realized, "Wow, you really mean what you say. You really walk what you say you are." So, through that has come amends. And I have now made amends with those that I worked with. I've had the chance to be able to talk with them and apologize for what I did.
One of the hardest hurdles was, obviously, getting a job and coming back to a town where my case had been very publicized. I couldn't go anywhere without someone bringing up what had happened, or asking me what it was like to be in prison.
I started attending a church, but I was asked to leave. Apparently, there were several board members who knew about my crime, and my presence was not welcomed. So, I was called into the office and asked by the pastor to leave. That was devastating.
That experience sent me into a depression. I didn't want to be out anymore. It really wasn't until my husband was transferred to Southern California that I came out of my shell and said, "I need to do something different with my life."
God put this tug on my heart that I needed to reach out. So, I thought, Well, we'll help with Angel Tree®. So, we started delivering gifts to prisoners' children with our church, Saddleback.
I couldn't go anywhere without someone bringing up what had happened,
or asking me what it was like to be in prison.
LIVING OUT THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT
After that my husband and I started volunteering with an in-prison pilot program of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), a Christian leadership training program offered by Prison Fellowship and World Impact. As I was leaving the prison one night after class, I said, "If I could work for Prison Fellowship, it would be a dream come true."
Almost exactly a year later, I got a job with Prison Fellowship as a TUMI specialist. It's been the absolute best thing I have ever done with my life—to be able to help people change, to be able to help individuals grow in their leadership skills. And then to see them get out and have their families restored.
The great commandment is to love. Having Christ in my life, I feel this unconditional love all the time. I don't look to other people anymore to bring me joy, peace, happiness, or love. I just look to God and have faith in Him—that He'll get me through each and every day. He has not failed me to date!
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