Growing up, Maurice didn't have anyone to provide a positive influence in his life.
"I didn't have those godly role models," he says, "those healthy, functioning families that I could look to and aspire to."
Instead, the only role models Maurice had were the gang members on the streets, who he eventually joined. He got involved with drugs and was incarcerated several times.
He became a parent during this time as well. Like many parents, he wanted to be a good father for his little girl. But no matter how hard he tried, Maurice just couldn't change himself for the better.
"Doing right for your children doesn't really last because it's not for yourself," Maurice says. "It runs out. So, I found myself back [in] this dark place."
For the fifth time in his life, Maurice was placed behind bars.
THE BURDEN ON CHILDREN AND CAREGIVERS
Approximately 2.7 million children in America have an incarcerated parent, and 5.1 million children nationwide have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives. Many of these children suffer heartache, loneliness, and shame at no fault of their own. They are also some of America’s most at-risk kids, twice as likely to suffer major depression, attention disorders, and other mental health problems; four times more likely than their peers to grow up in poverty; and three times more likely to one day be involved in the criminal justice system themselves.
In addition, the parental incarceration makes an impact on the caregiver left in charge. Caregivers often need to be both mother and father to a child with a parent in prison. Many caregivers are overwhelmed and overburdened.
Although Maurice had been incarcerated before, as a father he could now understand how his decisions and actions had a negative effect on others, not just himself. "I felt the impact that was happening to my child," he says. "The impact [on] her mother like never before … She was having to raise my daughter without me."
Maurice was one of the lucky ones. His daughter was able to visit him several times in the correctional facility. But Maurice knew that a prison visiting room could never replace having a father at home.
And that’s when Angel Tree® came into his family's lives.
A prison visiting room could never replace having a father at home.
LOVE IN ACTION
Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship®, serves incarcerated parents by providing a pathway for strengthening and restoring their relationships with their children and families.
Prison Fellowship mobilizes local churches and community organizations to give hundreds of thousands of children a gift, the Gospel message, and a personal message of love on behalf of their incarcerated parent. In addition, many partner churches meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of prisoners’ families through year-round ministry such as camping and mentoring.
The group of Prison Fellowship volunteers who arrived that unforgettable day gave Maurice hope.
"They're saying, 'Hey everybody, you want to sign up your child for a gift?'" Maurice remembers. "It wasn't just like, 'Sign your kid up and hope for the best' … there were these churches, there were these individuals that would follow up [with my child]."
It wasn't just the gift that Angel Tree promised that made Maurice excited—it was the fact that his family would be blessed by Christians who truly cared about them. His daughter and mother "got to see Jesus' love, and not just hear about 'God loves you,'" Maurice explains. "That's what really was the biggest blessing for me."
"They got to see Jesus' love, and not just hear about 'God loves you.'
That's what really was the biggest blessing for me."
PAY IT FORWARD
Today, Maurice is out of prison, but he's still involved with Angel Tree. Once an Angel Tree father, Maurice now volunteers with the program to bring the joy and hope of Christ to families just like his.
"I didn't understand the depths of Angel Tree until I actually came on the outside," Maurice says. "I see the big picture now: [Angel Tree] is preparing and helping introduce a healthy lifestyle and a transformed life in these homes for inmates when they come home. I mean, how beautiful is that?"
Angel Tree may start with a gift, but it doesn't end there. Instead, Angel Tree is the catalyst through which the restorative power of Jesus Christ can heal a family broken by crime and incarceration.
"Bring hope into that household, and let them know, 'Dad's thinking of you.' Let them know that 'Dad hasn't forgot (sic) about you.' And most importantly, [that] God hasn't forgotten about Dad, [too]," Maurice says.
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