Sarah Hedeen is a volunteer in a Prison Fellowship Academy™. In the past, she has taught elementary and high school and served in full-time women's ministry. Today she is an arts director at a community theater.
A mother and grandmother, Sarah lives outside Detroit with her husband.
Prison Fellowship: How did you become a Prison Fellowship® volunteer?
Sarah Hedeen: In college, I studied education and psychology, and was headed into teaching work.
Later, when I felt the tug to try prison ministry, I came across Prison Fellowship's website and contacted Denise Harris, a staff member in my area. We met up, and she answered a lot of my initial questions. Then I filled out the online application.
How did Prison Fellowship prepare you to go into prison?
The online training was excellent. It starts from the very beginning with the basics, from how to dress to how security works. It trains you how to listen and talk to people in an environment that's unfamiliar to you. There are videos, review sheets, and little quizzes along the way. They covered things I wouldn't have thought about. I found it very step-by-step, thorough, and user-friendly. Then the curriculum was mailed to me, to use as I saw fit.
Has anything surprised you about volunteering in the Academy?
I went in expecting the hardened criminal mindset. For some, that's the case. But I can be very honest and say sitting in a small group in prison isn't any different from sitting in a small group in my living room. It's just a different location.
What has been the most rewarding part of volunteering with Prison Fellowship?
One of my classes is about finding freedom from past abuse. I have seen women be able to forgive their abusers and themselves … to share their pain honestly and tell those parts of their story—the beginning step to healing.
One woman wrote a poem about how much her life was touched just by letting people see into her heart without being judged. I've seen hope rise in them as they discover the Lord and His truth, and learn lessons on marriage, parenting, and finances. That's the impact of the Academy. So many women aren't going back in [to prison] because they come out of the program stronger.
Why should other people consider becoming Academy volunteers?
I don't think it requires any special ability to read, talk, listen, and pray. Even with different backgrounds and talents, we all have something to offer: our presence. It's about being open and sensitive. And it's so humbling. I hear this from prisoners all the time: "I can't believe you come in here and talk to us." I think anyone can identify with the need to be heard and be seen.
There are people on waiting lists for these classes. Volunteers have a special opportunity to go in and show them the journey to a second chance.
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