Prison could have been the end of Roderick's story—and his relationship with his son. But Angel Tree was their new beginning.
Roderick McNeely spent much of his life chasing crack cocaine. Behind bars, he hit rock bottom.
Whether he was running the streets or sitting in prison, Roderick was rarely home for his children. He shared custody of only his son, Roderick II, but he wasn't there to take care of him. The little boy's mother also struggled with addiction, so his grandparents raised him. Meanwhile, years of separation damaged Roderick's relationship with his son.
"Where's Daddy?" little Roderick would ask constantly.
"Your dad will be home," older relatives would reply. But they couldn't say when Roderick would return.
A FATHER'S CHANCE
Prison could have been the end of Roderick's story. But in the Prison Fellowship Academy®, a long-term transformation program at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, he found a chance to change and get clean. He found a future. He also discovered a chance to be a better dad, because of Angel Tree®.
Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship®, works with churches and organizations in all 50 states to help bridge the gap between prisoners and their children at Christmas. Every year, moms and dads in prison sign up their children for Angel Tree. Then program volunteers purchase and deliver gifts, the Gospel, and a personal message to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents.
Roderick had missed so many milestones and birthdays. As Christ transformed his heart behind bars, Roderick longed to become a better father. And Angel Tree was his chance to be there at Christmas, even if he couldn't be home. He registered his three children to receive a gift through the program. On the personal note card, he wrote, Merry Christmas. Don't forget that Daddy loves you.
"I believe if they hadn't been seeing those Christmas gifts from me, they probably would've thought that their daddy didn't love them," says Roderick.
Roderick looked for Angel Tree flyers on his unit every Christmas. He signed up for eight years. As years went by, Roderick II always asked if Daddy had sent anything. Because of Angel Tree, the answer was always yes.
CONNECTED BY HOPE
Roderick II was 9 when he attended an Angel Tree party at the Carol S. Vance Unit. Several incarcerated dads gathered to welcome their kids for a special visit that day. At that point, Roderick hadn't seen his son in years. He still remembers the moment his son walked through the doors.
"I was in tears because he had gotten big," recalls Roderick.
That year, Roderick got to see his son's face light up at receiving an Angel Tree gift—one with his dad's name on it. Every gift helped to heal their father-son relationship, showing Roderick II that his dad loved and remembered him.
Angel Tree also showed Roderick that real people he didn't know wanted to give joy to prisoners' families. And that stuck with him.
After his release from prison, Roderick stayed involved in church, launched his own business, and eventually bought a house. There, he raised his son with the help of his brother. Roderick also became an Angel Tree and in-prison volunteer with Prison Fellowship through his church, hoping to serve families with stories like his. Now, every year, he loads up his truck with Christmas gifts and delivers them to prisoners' families in his community.
'NOW HE CALLS ME DAD'
Today he is thankful to have a relationship with his now 20-year-old son, who is stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, in the U.S. Navy, while studying to be a pediatric oncology nurse. Roderick couldn't be prouder.
"My brother said, 'Man, you did it. You raised him.' And I said, 'No, I didn't raise him. We raised him,'" says Roderick. "It was just us three guys in the house. Two and a half men."
"He used to call me 'man'—like, 'Hey, man,'" adds Roderick. "Now he calls me Dad."
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