"People do stupid things when they become desperate," says Cheri. "I was in a desperate situation, but it doesn't excuse it."
Her daughter was getting married, and Cheri doesn't sugarcoat it: the family was out of money. Instead of being honest with her husband, Cheri let her pride get in the way and took matters into her own hands. She took her niece's social security number and opened several new accounts, all for wedding purchases.
"When I got caught, my husband asked, 'Did you do this?' And I said, 'Yep.' And he just picked me up and said, 'You know, we're going to get through this.'"
She would go to prison for three and a half years.
"Boy, was [prison] scary," Cheri recalls. "I'll never forget arriving. I didn't understand that when you go to prison at first, you're put at maximum because they're classifying you. [I thought], I don't know how I'm going to do this."
Prison was a humbling experience for Cheri. Surrounded by negativity, she wondered how she would survive, and sought opportunities to make the most of her time. For a while, she taught literacy classes and helped women pass an eighth-grade equivalency test.
Cheri was put to the test in her own way when a new opportunity rolled in: The Prison Fellowship Academy™. She'd been begging God for something like this.
The Academy brought Cheri face-to-face with past hurts and issues that brought out insecurities, like being abandoned by her dad at age 2. It was challenging to uncover the roots of her criminal behavior. But it was worth it when the healing began.
"There's been some painful experiences in my life," admits Cheri. "They really drew it out of you. I needed that. I needed counseling."
'I WAS GOING TO MAKE IT'
Through the Academy, Cheri built relationships with Prison Fellowship volunteers who listened to her, walked her through difficult issues, and made her feel worthy of love. They helped her learn humility. And when her hopes for early release were repeatedly crushed, she learned how to trust God. Her faith in Him continued to grow.
"The one Scripture that stood out to me was 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, where it says I am not crushed or abandoned, I am struck down but not destroyed," Cheri remembers. "To know that I was going to make it, meant everything."
Cheri wrote down that verse and posted it on the wall of her cell. She realized that God still had plans for her.
(2 Corinthians 4:9)
Today Cheri lives in Yuma, Arizona, with her husband and one of her step-daughters. The church she had been attending before her incarceration has welcomed her back with open arms. Now she serves as a coordinator for Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship that gives incarcerated parents a way to provide a Christmas gift to their child.
"I would do anything for Prison Fellowship," says Cheri. "… The Academy saved my life. It really did. I had no hope. I woke up every day and I felt like I had no hope. … And then finally, here comes [the Academy]. And thank God, it was better than I imagined."
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