Drugs once came between Jeannie and her son, but God is in the business of restoring relationships.
The last time Jeannie saw her grown son was eight years ago. She sat handcuffed in the back of a police car. Another drug arrest.
Jeannie says that he was furious with her. She remembers him saying, "I never want to see or talk to you again. I will never forgive you for this."
His words in that moment were searing, but Jeannie couldn't blame him. Each time in prison was supposed to be her last. Each time, disappointment and shame fractured her family relationships. This arrest would lead to her third incarceration, a 30-year sentence for a nonviolent offense.
UNANSWERED CALLS …
Addiction had taken its toll on Jeannie for years. Behind bars, Jeannie finally cried out to Jesus, desperate for a new path. But she couldn't find her footing alone. At Kate Barnard Correctional Center in Oklahoma, Jeannie joined the Prison Fellowship Academy®. Caring Prison Fellowship® staff and volunteers guided her and other women in her class through the biblically based curriculum for a year, and together they tackled serious issues that are common to women in prison.
With the Academy's help, Jeannie began to transform from the inside out. She realized the impact of her actions on her family. Though she longed to make amends, Jeannie understood why her letters and phone calls to her son went unanswered. The few times he took her calls, he barely spoke. Though his distance was painful, she understood. She had grown up without a mom around, too. She knew those scars wouldn't heal overnight.
Despite her strained relationship with her son, Jeannie kept writing letters to him from behind bars. She sought strength in her newfound faith and supportive Academy community. Calming hobbies like crocheting kept her sane. She even began teaching other incarcerated women to craft hats and blankets. The Academy class organized a service project to provide handmade winter hats for local schoolchildren.
And with the leftover yarn, Jeannie fashioned hats and a blanket for her son, his wife, and the grandbabies she had never seen. She dropped the package in the prison mailroom, expecting nothing in return.
AND ANSWERED PRAYERS
Sometime later, a letter arrived from her son. Tucked inside were photos of Jeannie's new granddaughter.
"She's gorgeous … just precious," Jeannie breathed, staring at the image. She opened the letter, and the salutation caught her off guard.
"Hi mom," the letter began.
"He never calls me mom," she explained. "It's always just 'Jeannie.'"
In his letter, Jeannie's son wrote of his children and happenings at home. He thanked Jeannie for the crocheted gifts—"Pretty cool how you can make stuff like that"—and said the whole family adored them. The letter closed with "Love, Michael" and a few final words that tugged at her heart:
P.S. I forgive you for everything you've done, Mom. It's just hard for me to trust, especially with everything that's happened."
For Jeannie, her son's letter was an answer to her prayers and evidence of the change God had started within her life. "It was really touching [that Michael] was hearing me," she explains. "He can hear the change in me."
After three prison terms, Jeannie had spent a total of 23 years behind bars. But this letter was the first time her son had ever shared his heart with her.
"My family has always doubted me, so I wasn't going to throw Jesus on them," Jeannie explains. "… [But] my son could hear the change in my voice."
Jeannie had taken the initiative to make amends in a healthy way, with much prayer and advice from mentors. Because of Jeannie's obedience and God's faithfulness, restoration was possible, not only in her life, but in the lives of others. Her Academy classmates joined her in celebrating what God had done in her family.
The Academy gave Jeannie the tools of transformation—from patience and humility, to crochet hooks and yarn. The plan for the rest of her sentence became clear. "I take a lot of the tools that [Prison Fellowship Academy manager] Tammy's taught me there and teach [other women]," said Jeannie. "I can be stronger and just continue my walk with the Lord, and just give back to everybody that I can … for all that I've done in my past that wasn't right."
MAKE A DIFFERENCE TODAY
Want to help end the cycle of incarceration? Be a part of the Prison Fellowship Academy today and help prisoners like Jeannie find the tools and guidance to transform. There are Academy sites in 28 states, with plans to expand to all 50 states by 2026. When you give to the Academy, you are investing in life transformation. Let's give hope to prisoners as they prepare to re-enter their communities as restored individuals.
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