Roderick knows it's not about how you start. It's about how you finish.
Roderick McNeely didn't know freedom until he went to prison.
He'd spent years addicted to crack cocaine and the hard lifestyle that came with it. When he wound up in prison on drug charges, he hit rock bottom. But his story wasn't over.
At the Carol S. Vance Unit in Texas, after multiple stints behind bars, Roderick spent 24 months in the Prison Fellowship Academy®. The long-term, biblically based program shows incarcerated men and women how to embrace values of good citizenship.
In the Academy, Roderick received intensive leadership training and life-skills instruction. Caring staff and volunteers invested time in mentoring prisoners like Roderick and guiding them to new ways of thinking. The way his Christian brothers served one another in that restorative community inspired him.
"It was the most humbling experience," said Roderick. "If my Lord and Savior can do it, who am I to not be of service to someone?"
'THE ACADEMY WAS A TRAINING GROUND'
Because of volunteers who poured into him, Roderick's story didn't end in prison. He was ready to lead a transformed life serving others. "The Academy was a training ground," says Roderick. "God had something better for my life, and I couldn't see it until I got there. When I got there, He painted the picture for me so beautiful I had to take it."
God gave him a passion for mentoring prisoners, preaching and teaching, and encouraging other men that they can make it on the outside. Still in prison, Roderick began forming a nonprofit business plan.
When Roderick walked out of prison for the last time, he kissed the ground beneath his feet and thanked God. Then his mentors picked him up and took him to a restaurant for his first meal as a free man.
Roderick knew reentry would hold challenges. He also knew prison was in his future—not as a prisoner this time, but as a volunteer to help others.
For a while, Roderick volunteered behind bars alongside friends and mentors like Chris Pipkin, a Prison Fellowship staff member. Then Roderick got to the point where he was able to volunteer on his own, even when Chris couldn't join him. As Roderick says, "Chris is the reason I was able to go back into prison to volunteer. God was in all of that."
Soon Roderick filed for his own 501(c)(3). The business plan he started at the Vance Unit would later become BBAM Foundation. BBAM provides support to former prisoners from a biblical perspective, providing life-skills classes, housing, furniture, and clothing, and building networks with churches to support reentry in Texas.
Recently, Roderick started a new position as program director at T.A.M.A.R. Program, which offers comprehensive reentry support to formerly incarcerated Dallas residents. He serves there as a case manager for 21 men.
Roderick knows his Academy mentors prepared him to guide others well. He remains friends with several mentors who still pour into his life.
And what kind of advice does Roderick give his own mentees in reentry? "Get a job. And if you can't find one right away, keep busy. Start serving. Get a hobby, a craft, a movie to watch. Those first few years out are especially critical." And Roderick would know—it took more than one prison stint to learn that lesson.
But now, he is thankful for the journey.
"It doesn't matter what you've been through," Roderick said. "I always say, 'Don't matter how you start your journey. How you finish is what matters.'"
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