Cliff didn't have much of a head start. His family was small and fractured.
"I had a rough, rebellious life growing up on the north side of Houston," Cliff says. "It was rough because my stepfather liked to drink a lot—so there was a lot of physical and verbal abuse in our home."
Pushed out of his home, Cliff started running with a crowd that led him to drugs and, eventually, prison.
HURTS, HABITS, AND HANG UPS
Years behind bars lay ahead of Cliff. The faith-based dorm he joined as part of the Prison Fellowship Academy™ helped alleviate some of the weight of those years.
Every Tuesday night Prison Fellowship® and Celebrate Recovery had programs in the faith-based dorms—teaching prisoners tools to overcome addiction, struggle, and strife in their lives.
"When I was in there, these brothers would come, out of their time, away from their family, away from their loved ones, to spend time with us," he recalls, "to share what God has put in their hearts. It meant a lot to me. It was one of the steps that changed my life."
Ten years before he was released, Cliff heard the good news about Jesus Christ. Then Prison Fellowship, through volunteers and the Academy curriculum, gave Cliff the tools to overcome his past—and showed him how to use them. He learned one program, or one event, wasn't enough. He had to keep applying what he learned every day.
"Another thing I've learned from Prison Fellowship and Celebrate Recovery is to continue to follow these tools," Cliff explains, "[to] continue to follow the steps they gave me while I was incarcerated."
BACK BEHIND BARS
Getting out of prison was just a step forward, not the end of the journey. Every Friday Cliff went to Celebrate Recovery. He started his own group for men, teaching and mentoring them like Prison Fellowship did for him.
"I take what I learned in [prison], out here, to the group to let them know that we all have hurts, habits, and hang ups," he says. "It's easy for me to share with them, and they realize that if I can share with them the situations I've been in, it's easier for them to open up."
Now Cliff is back behind bars. But this time it's by choice: he’s a volunteer. Cliff is sharing his life with men he can identify with.
"I am an example of what they taught me," he says. "Prison Fellowship and Celebrate Recovery can be a success in your life if you follow the tools they give you."
A VICTORIOUS LIFE
Prison Fellowship's volunteers and programs gave Cliff hope for a new life. He recognized that the men who came to see him behind bars could have been spending time with their families—instead they were spending time with him.
The Gospel told Cliff who he was and who he belonged to. It gave him an identity in Christ, and now he can be himself. Those lessons and tools keep him going.
"I realize I've learned to have a victorious life out here. ... Sometimes it can get rough, but I go back to what they taught me."