How Incarceration Impacted Cassie and Her Family
When she was 22, Cassie Cluesman fell head over heels for a man who was selling drugs. Though she knew about the illegal activity, Cassie said she was never in the same place as the narcotics and had nothing to do with them.
One day, while her boyfriend was out on one of his deals, she left a gas station to find her car surrounded by police. "I was so embarrassed," she remembers. She was arrested and charged with delivery and manufacturing of narcotics.
The police had been watching her boyfriend for three months and learned that she and her two children were living with him. Now they wanted Cassie to testify against her boyfriend. She said no.
So, a judge sentenced her to four years in a Michigan state prison.
WHEN MOM GOES TO PRISON
She knew she wouldn't be with her two kids—who were very young at the time—regularly for the next four years as she served her sentence. "Oh, my goodness, I had pictures of my children, and I'm like, 'Look at all I'm missing.' Just thinking about it now makes me choked up because I missed their first steps. I missed their first a-lot-of-things."
Cassie knew well the pain her children would experience from their mother's absence. Her father had done time when she was a kid, leaving her mother to be her sole caregiver. Though her mom didn't take her to church, she remembers walking there with her sister. Faith gradually became more important to Cassie, and she was baptized at 15. Cassie's grandma was an important part of that journey.
Her arrest gave Cassie a wake-up call and revived her faith. She was determined to leave behind any association with criminal activity, but incarceration still separated her from her kids.
MAKING THE MOST OF TIME APART
Cassie's mother assumed the role of caregiver once again, this time for Cassie's children. Fortunately, the facility where Cassie was incarcerated was only about 30 minutes away, so Cassie's mother was able to bring her children to visit her every other week.
In between visits, Cassie was thinking about life after her release, wondering how she would make things better for herself and her children. Then she saw a posting for the Prison Fellowship Academy®, an intensive, biblically based program that takes incarcerated men and women through a holistic life transformation process. "All the girls wanted to do it," says Cassie. There was only room in the program for just over 25 women. But Cassie was one of them.
It was a time of growth for Cassie and the women going through the program with her. Denise Harris, the Prison Fellowship field director in charge of the program, explains, "The Prison Fellowship Academy provides these women with the tools they need to become not only better parents, but better wives, daughters, and grandparents. During the 12 months in the program, the women grow in community and together explore ways to build stronger relationships with their families and with God."
Cassie says the Academy helped prepare her for reentry. The Academy has classes on "what to do on a [job] interview, and how to prepare and how to impress, and budgeting, and everything," Cassie says.
RECONNECTING WITH FAMILY THROUGH ANGEL TREE
In the Academy, Cassie also rediscovered Angel Tree®. Growing up, Cassie had received Angel Tree gifts from her father while he was incarcerated. "I remember my grandma would always pick us up and take us to these Angel Tree parties at a church," she says. "And they would ask us what we wanted months prior, so we would get the things that we would ask for. It was just wonderful, you know. And they would say [the gifts] were from my dad. It was just, it was a wonderful experience."
When she was in prison, Cassie signed her own children up for Angel Tree. She says, "It's great to feel like you could actually do something for Christmas for them."
MOM COMES HOME
After four years of incarceration, Cassie was released. She received a backpack with a Bible and some basic supplies from Prison Fellowship—plus some new clothes to begin her new life.
"The first day of freedom—oh, I was just so excited," she remembers. "I was with my sister and my new brother-in-law and my mother. And I went and got my kids out of school early, and they ran and jumped in my arms, and it was just wonderful."
Back with her children, she began looking for jobs to support her family. She eventually found work in a call center, then moved on to waitressing. Because of her new job and her financial literacy training in the Academy, she was able to save up enough money to put a down payment on a house. She says about her home, "It's just so beautiful. I even made a song about it, and me and my son sing it together."
And how is it being reunited with her children? "It's just … it's wonderful."
MOTHERS BEHIND BARS
Today, there are more women behind bars than at any time in American history. Many are mothers struggling with deep pain and shame. And because of their choices, they are separated from their children and families. Though they are in prison, they are not alone. Prison Fellowship walks alongside women to offer hope, encouragement, and guidance along a new path—one that leads to restoration.
Will you help us reach mothers behind bars with the hope of new life in Christ and the tools to transform their lives through programs like the Academy?
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