Monica Henry sits in a folding chair at Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC), wearing a teal-blue sweater. Her outfit almost matches the Prison Fellowship® logo painted on cinderblock walls behind her.
These Oklahoma prison walls are a familiar backdrop for Monica. She teaches Prison Fellowship Academy® classes for men as a volunteer at LARC. The Academy builds communities and creates opportunities for those in prison to practice and develop values that transform them and others into good citizens.
Monica, a single mom of two, has a packed schedule—and could be many other places besides a maximum-security men's prison.
On camera, she's asked what it's like to work regularly with prisoners. "They're still hopeful," she says. "That is huge to me. Their outlook on life is just amazing."
MONICA HENRY MAKES A DIFFERENCE
WATCH: A single mom of two, Monica has a packed schedule. There are many other places she could be, besides a maximum-security men's prison, so why is she spending her days volunteering behind bars at a men's prison?
'[Prisoners are] still hopeful. That is huge to me. Their outlook on life is just amazing.'
THE VALUE OF HOPE
Monica is among thousands of passionate volunteers nationwide who step through prison gates to share the hope of Christ. For her, serving at LARC hits home. She was serving her own sentence not long ago, wearing state-issued prison scrubs. Her daughter was 5, and her son was 2 when she was first locked up.
Upon her release, Monica looked for ways to give back, the same way she had been led by caring volunteers. She found her answer through Aaron Cosar, an Academy manager who was also once incarcerated. Aaron invited Monica to apply to become a Prison Fellowship® volunteer.
"I came from a family of addicts, so that has played a big part in my life," explains Monica. Her dad was also incarcerated for a time. "I do what I can to help others come out of that. ... It's very important to me to make a difference and to be present."
'It's very important to me to make a difference and to be present.'
A CHANCE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
As a female volunteer in a men's prison, Monica wondered how the men would react to her presence and point of view. In the Academy setting, participants are expected to build community around core values like integrity and affirmation. In a men's prison, she says, "It's just different. They're around men all the time ... so for them to be able to open up and share, with me in the room, was a concern [for me]."
But the participants' response to Monica has been a pleasant surprise. She says the men seem to appreciate learning from a woman and practicing respect: "They respect my point of view ... [I] can help them in the relationships with the women in their lives."
Teaching biblical values and sharing Christ's love, Monica feels she is "in the right spot" with her role in the Academy in Oklahoma. Her home state's incarceration crisis is a topic of heavy debate, and the cycle of crime seems to touch every Oklahoman in some way. She says it's a privilege to join the volunteers, churches, and people in government who want to replace cycles of crime with cycles of renewal—one transformed life at a time.
She adds, "I wanted to be able to give back and to mean something to someone, as much as those volunteers meant to me [during my incarceration]."
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