The views expressed in the Insider are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Prison Fellowship.
When [the demon-possessed man] saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, 'What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!' For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Noel is a calm and reserved man. He sits before the camera, clean-cut and respectful, and his speech is clear and measured. It's hard to believe that this man was once so full of anger and violence he had to be held in administrative segregation.
Noel first went to prison when he was just 17 years old. "I didn't have any sense of direction," he recalls. "I joined … a prison gang. Got into most of the stuff that goes on in prison, especially back then in the early '90s … I was just wandering in darkness."
After serving 15 years, Noel returned to the outside, but it wasn't too long before he was back in prison, where he continued to rack up more prison time by lashing out and assaulting a correctional officer. Noel was deemed uncontrollable and eventually placed in administrative segregation for six consecutive years.
THE WILD MAN
Prisoners held in administrative segregation, or solitary confinement, are often kept in their cell for 23 hours and are allowed out for just one hour a day.
"Most of the time, I didn't even want that," Noel says. "You just become so accustomed to your cell." Each time Noel would leave his cell, he would be strip searched. A chain would be placed on his handcuffs to keep him under control. And yet Noel would do everything he could to defy the officers.
"That was the lowest point of my life," he says. "When I was in solitary, I was basically like the … wild man who Jesus encountered in the tombs. … That was the type of mind frame I had."
Noel eventually transferred back to general population, but inside, he was still seething, unprepared for life beyond the narrow confines of a prison cell. When he made parole, he was told about a special program that would help prepare him for reentry: the Prison Fellowship Academy®.
Located in select prisons across the country, the Academy takes incarcerated men and women through a year-long holistic life transformation program, where they are guided by Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers to lead lives of purpose and productivity inside and outside of prison. The Academy teaches six core values of good citizenship: responsibility, integrity, restoration, community, productivity, and affirmation. Graduates are equipped not only to reenter society but to also make positive changes to prison culture while incarcerated.
Noel's prospects for life on the outside looked grim. Most of his family had either passed away or wanted nothing more to do with him. There wasn't anything to look forward to on the outside. But he agreed to enroll in the Academy. "I'm just going to go through this program just to make parole," he told himself.
But God had other plans.
A PEACE THAT SURPASSES UNDERSTANDING
Shortly after transferring to the Academy, Noel attended a Christian seminar. "That's where the Lord really opened up to me that the Lord was who He was," Noel says. "He showed me that He carried me through all the hard times that I went through."
God broke through the anger, the violence, and the wildness that had taken over Noel's heart. And He set Noel free.
"Since then, I haven't looked back," Noel says. "I never thought that when I was going through my darkest times in 2008, 2010, that I'd even think about being a Christian. I felt Christianity was weak. Christians were weak."
But living in Christian community with his fellow prisoners at the Academy has changed everything. "Now, I'm at peace," he says. "I have a lot of joy. I smile all the time. … I always had a problem with authority, but now I can deal with [the correctional officers]. … I don't want to strike out at them anymore. I make an effort now to even say 'good morning' to them. 'Cause I know they're going through the same thing that I'm going through, just in their own little way. That's what coming to Christ has taught me: We all in the same boat."
FROM SOLITARY TO COMMUNITY
After having spent almost 30 years in prison, Noel is preparing to return to the outside in 2022. And unlike the last time, he has the skills and the training to help transition back into society.
"Since I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I've been transformed so that I'm going to smile when I leave here," Noel says. "[There's] not going to be any hatred; it's not going to be any frustration. I'm at peace. And this is what I had to go through to get to where I'm at now. If I hadn't gone through this, I wouldn't be where I'm at now."
"I can honestly say that [the Prison Fellowship Academy] works. If you want it to work," he adds. "For the guys in my [Academy] group—[for] most of them, it's about freedom on the outside, but I tell them, 'We're going to get there, but right now I'm as free as I've ever been.'"
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