How Angel Tree Helped Rebuild a Family's Trust
"We're glad you're in prison," Kellie Thimmes remembers her parents telling her one day, "because now we know at least you're safe." For years, Kellie had struggled with drug addiction. She cycled in and out of rehab, and her parents had been forced to take charge of her four children. Kellie's addiction had created a lot of pain and division between her and her family. "We're not going to support you," her parents told her bluntly. "Go do what you gotta do."
"I think they had to build up walls around their own hearts because I had broken them so many times," Kellie explains today. "They just had to put up guards for their own safety."
The Kellie who sits before the camera now is calm, well-dressed, and exhibits no signs of the addiction and drug dependency that once ruled her life. She's come a long way in the last few years, but getting clean has not been easy.
"My addiction didn't happen in just one day," she says, "so [my family's] trust [was] not going to be rebuilt in one day … or even one year."
HUMBLED BY OTHERS
Incarcerated for three years, Kellie discovered a program that would eventually bring healing to her and her family: Angel Tree®. A program of Prison Fellowship®, Angel Tree serves incarcerated parents by providing a pathway for restoring and strengthening 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.
Every year, Kellie looked forward to sending her children Christmas presents through the Angel Tree program. "I don't even think there are words that I can say that would express how thankful and grateful I am for [the Angel Tree volunteers], for each and every one of them," she says. And every year, the same family would take on Kellie's four kids and bless them with Christmas presents. They even sent Kellie cards to fill out for her children.
"The humbleness of the people, you know, not taking credit for it, and just letting it be from their mom, despite the fact that [I was] in prison, was just a good feeling," Kellie says. "Children are so affected [by incarceration] and miss their moms and dads so much. That gift just makes a huge difference in their life, you know? It's not just a letter, it's a gift."
CLEAN, SOBER, AND GRATEFUL
After three years, Kellie was paroled and began a new life on the outside, clean and sober. She left prison hoping that her family would notice the change in her and welcome her home, but they still maintained their distance. Kellie didn't blame them.
Her older two children were angry with Kellie because they had seen her heavy dependence on drugs firsthand. Her parents, too, needed proof that Kellie really had changed.
"I would just call, and I would let them know that, 'Hey, just checking in, just wanted to let you know that I'm OK,'" Kellie shares. She would tell them about her job and where she was living. And she would write letters to her children and parents every week. "I let them know how grateful I was because I took on the victim role so much [before]."
Finally, last year, Kellie's oldest daughter asked to meet her.
"She let me have it," Kellie says. "She told me exactly how she felt, and how I hurt her time and time again. And it was so hard to sit there and listen to it, but it was so healing. She needed to say that, and I needed to hear it."
IN GOD’S TIMING
Today, Kellie is remarried. She has a job at a dental water lab and is the member of a local church. Her relationship with her children and her parents has improved, and she spends holidays with her children. Now she is able to deliver Christmas presents to them herself. She also donates to Angel Tree, fulfilling a promise she made to herself while incarcerated to pay it forward.
"I feel like Angel Tree really paved the way for [my kids to know I was still there]. I feel like they let my kids know that they were cared about, thought about, and were important enough to receive gifts from their mom," Kellie says. "When I start to feel, 'Oh, [full reconciliation is] never going to happen,' I just stop and look back, and I'm like, 'Look how much has happened in just one year of time!' … Angel Tree was just such a blessing."
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