Rodney is serving a life sentence. Is there any hope for his future?
Rodney Mason always knew prison was in his future. Too many of his friends and family members had made their way behind bars. What other path was there for Rodney?
Like them, he had dabbled with gangs and drugs at an early age. His mother had taken Rodney to church, but even though he attended, joined the choir, and went to Bible studies, Rodney never felt strongly connected to it. "I didn't have no understanding," he says.
Church seemed confusing and boring, but life on the streets was exciting. Gang life had an aura of "fame and glamour." By the time he went to prison on a life sentence for murder, Rodney had already spent time in juvenile detention centers and county jails. Prison was just the next logical step.
PURSUED BY GOD
Rodney may not have felt a deep connection with God, but God wasn't about to let him go.
"God was speaking through other people about me," he says. "There was one particular guy in the hole (solitary confinement). He was in the hole for a little while and got out."
When most prisoners are released from solitary, they're more interested in staking their claim back in the culture of the general population. But not this man. He immediately sought Rodney out on the prison yard.
"Man, I've been looking all over for you!" Rodney remembers him saying. "Somebody told me to tell you something."
Rodney assumed he was referring to someone else back in the hole. He braced himself for the news and asked, "What does one of the homies want?"
The man shook his head. "No," he said, "God told me to tell you … you gotta come wholeheartedly'" to Him.
It was a message that Rodney wasn't expecting, and he brushed it off and tried to forget about it. But there were other moments where Rodney felt God reaching out to him, and he pondered over them as he continued to serve his time.
THAT 'AHA' MOMENT
Rodney laughs retelling the moment he finally stopped running from God and answered Him. He admits it wasn't very conventional.
"I was in a room [in prison] with my friends, and we got to smoking some [contraband] marijuana," he says with a grin. "I'm sitting there smoking, and I'm as high as a witch's hat."
A Bible lay on a table in the room, and when Rodney saw it, something changed in his heart and spirit.
"I looked at the Bible, and I said, 'Man, I got to stop smoking.' It was the Spirit stirring me up. So, then I grabbed the Bible, and … it was like everything on the page was blank," he remembers. "There was nothing on the page but one scripture. And I looked at the scripture, and it was Romans 8:28":
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The verse convicted Rodney. He looked at his friends next to him and said, "I'm done."
His friends laughed it off: "Man, you trippin'. It's the weed."
But God had prepared Rodney's heart for this moment. "I stepped out in faith, and I started getting into the Word," he says. He left his friends and his old lifestyle behind. "I was a baby in Christ—[I wanted] to tell everybody what God [was] doing … God was pruning me and shaping me."
The gangbanger who had never quite grasped who Jesus was in church was now developing an intimate relationship with Him behind bars.
"It was like that, 'Aha' moment," Rodney says. "Oh, now I get it."
DISCIPLESHIP BEHIND BARS
After transferring to the Nebraska State Penitentiary, Rodney enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy®. Located in more than 80 prisons nationwide, the Academy guides men and women through a holistic life transformation spanning weeks or months, where they are led by Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers to pursue lives of purpose and productivity inside and outside of prison. For the 95 percent of state prisoners who are eventually released, the Academy provides tools that can help reduce recidivism and better integrate returning citizens back into society.
But for prisoners like Rodney serving a life sentence, the Academy is transforming prison culture.
"We [don't] just sit there as Bible thumpers," Rodney explains. "We have real conversations about life. That's the true blessing of [the Academy]."
The prisoners enrolled in the Academy are different, Rodney says. They are genuine with one another, sharing their burdens and building a community of discipleship. Rodney has participated in other Christian programs, but the Academy discipled him and gave him a community that has enabled him to serve his time with gladness.
"With me having this life sentence, I could be in a state of mind where I have nothing to lose," Rodney says. "But being in Prison Fellowship, you have a sense of a sound mind, a sense of love, a sense of home … . You have brothers that depend on you.
"Coming from my lifestyle and how I used to live … Prison Fellowship [Academy] has helped me be able to open the doors to start relationships, [to talk] with guys about the love of God and addressing it boldly without the [fear] of repercussions about speaking my faith and my truth about who God is in my life."
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