How One Lost Woman Found New Life
"It's almost time for us to graduate," LaShante Ervin says. "What am I going to do on Thursdays? I was told we can come back and mentor the ones that are starting … I would love to do that."
LaShante has been a prisoner at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla for 20 years. About five years ago, she enrolled in The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), an intensive biblical studies course offered by Prison Fellowship® in conjunction with World Impact.
"When I entered TUMI, it was a new experience for myself," LaShante says. "I've grown with the sponsors of TUMI and with the work that we've done. [TUMI] has pushed me so much closer to God, and it has done wonders for me in here."
FROM LOST TO FOUND
Before she entered prison, LaShante describes herself as having been "pretty lost."
"I did not know from beginning to end," she muses.
When LaShante heard about the TUMI program offered at her facility, she knew she wanted to be a part of it. Unfortunately, LaShante was classified as a "close custody inmate," which made her ineligible for the program
"I kept trying and trying," LaShante says. "And now that I'm in TUMI … it's been wonderful for me. Things have been happening, doors have been opening. I'm a changed person, and I've come closer to Jesus."
THE PRESENCE OF JESUS
In the background, happy voices and applause can be heard. It's the day of the Chowchilla Hope Event™—in-prison evangelistic events featuring speakers, musicians, and other performers, along with local volunteers, who share the Good News of the Gospel—and LaShante is excited for what the day will bring.
She's especially looking forward to "the feeling of Jesus floating around. You know, everyone with a smile on their face … welcoming everyone, regardless if you know us or not."
It's a day when people stop and say, "hello" to each other. Such a contrast to what prison typically is like. LaShante explains that in prison, most people don't talk to or acknowledge each other.
"Some people just look at you and growl at you," she explains. "It's a big difference just to say, 'hello' to someone, or 'good morning' and 'how are you?'"
'JESUS LOVES YOU'
It's different in TUMI. Through the program, LaShante has been able to form close friendships and community with her fellow classmates. The Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers provide a positive influence in LaShante's life. The best piece of advice she's received in the program was just a simple, "Jesus loves you."
"Regardless of if … I'm feeling alone, just knowing that Jesus loves me—it just makes a big difference." LaShante says. "I may not hear from my family for months or weeks … [but] I am loved by Jesus. Somebody loves me."
A NEW DIRECTION
TUMI teaches and equips prisoners to become Christian leaders in prison and in the urban communities many of them will return to. Graduates of the program have been recognized as leaders in their correctional institutions and have made positive transitions back into their communities as spouses, parents, employees, and urban missionaries.
LaShante does not yet have a release date, but she looks forward to the day when she can share her faith with those on the outside as well as within.
"If I wouldn't have found God … I think I would still be lost," she explains. "Now I have a better direction with my life and what I want to do when I do get out of here. … I think that I can do this out on the streets just as well."