"I want so bad to help in the same way that I was helped."
Individuals and communities are never static. Whether solo or in groups, people are dynamically shaped and molded through productive—or destructive—influences and interactions. And prisons are no different.
Tammy Franklin, Prison Fellowship Academy® program manager at Mabel Basset Correctional Center in Oklahoma, knows that many of the women she serves have doubts that they will be able to reenter society successfully after their time behind bars.
"Getting out of prison is not just a change of address," Tammy explains. "It is entering into a world that [many prisoners] have never known. A world where responsibility, integrity, and community are expected and required to succeed."
The brokenness that lands men and women in prison, left unaddressed, perpetuates a cycle of destructive thinking and behaviors that impacts individuals and communities—both inside and outside prison walls.
“I see their silent fear and can remember the doubts I know they are experiencing," Tammy says. Doubts such as, "Can I do this?" and "Do I fit here in the Academy?"
But it doesn't have to be this way.
THE ACADEMY PREPARES RETURNING CITIZENS
Founded on the Christian belief of human dignity and redemption, the Prison Fellowship Academy seeks to disrupt the cycle of crime and incarceration. Using targeted curriculum, compassionate coaches, and restorative community, Academy participants embark on a year-long journey to develop and practice the biblically based values of Good CitizenshipSM: community, affirmation, productivity, responsibility, restoration, and integrity.
As Academy participants adopt and apply these Christian concepts of community and personal responsibility, they replace criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed life principles and purpose. The result is flourishing and peaceful communities, where participants overcome the life-controlling issues that led to their incarceration. Academy graduates complete the program as change agents, prepared to take their places as productive and positive contributors to their communities inside and outside of prison.
And although Tammy knows the women in the Academy have doubts, she also has seen them rise above their fears and succeed. "I have witnessed their tenacity as they push forward, wanting with all they have to succeed while battling the doubts of living in a way they have never tried," she says.
THE VALUES OF GOOD CITIZENSHIP
Community: Building relationships and caring for others.
Affirmation: Recognizing others' worth, strengths, and achievements.
Productivity: Using time and energy constructively.
Responsibility: Owning one’s actions and committing to change.
Restoration: Seeking and promoting reconciliation.
Integrity: Knowing and doing the right thing.
A FINAL ACT OF COMMUNITY
There's one woman, Tammy says, whose example of a positive, transformed life will stay with her for a long time.
Jenny* had recently been released. She had very little money, and a physical limitation restricted her from working on the outside. Her husband of 30 years had passed away while she was incarcerated. While Jenny was grateful to finally be out of prison, her future was full of uncertainty. Without a job, she was unable to pay for her transitional housing. Jenny planned to move away from Oklahoma to be with her children.
The day before she left, Jenny and Tammy went to church together. Jenny was worried. It had been 20 years since she had seen her children, and now she was planning on traveling over 3,000 miles on a Greyhound bus to California where they lived.
"Before we went inside the chapel," Tammy recalls, "[Jenny] looked at me and said, 'I saw on social media that Prison Fellowship was in need of Bibles.'"
It was summer 2020. With many in-prison programs and events restricted by COVID-19 protective measures, Prison Fellowship had resolved to continue to "remember the prisoner" by finding new ways to share the hope of the Gospel with those behind bars, and so we:
- Created a virtual platform called Floodlight™ that provides prisoners with inspirational and educational content.
- Restructured Hope Events to better ensure social distancing.
- And increased efforts to donate Inside Journal Life Recovery Bibles to prisoners.
Through emails and social media posts, we shared with readers like you our vision and hope for these Bibles. Because of your generosity, Bibles especially designed for people serving behind bars were sent to prison across the nation. In fact, since March 2020, we have donated 69,000 bibles to prisoners.
And Jenny had noticed.
"Here," she said to Tammy, and thrust a Bible into the Academy program manager’s hands, "Would you give them mine? I have another, and I want so bad to help in the same way that I was helped."
REMEMBER RETURNING CITIZENS
Jenny could have easily kept the Bible to herself. She could have focused on the immediate issues she faced, and no one would have thought less of her.
But Jenny had been changed by the Academy. Although she was now on the outside, she still cared for her community on the inside. Her decision to give her Bible to the women who had invested in her affirmed their dignity and the value she had for each of them. Jenny was passing on the gift of restoration and taking responsibility for her own commitment to change.
"What a precious gift this was in so many ways," Tammy says. "Please pray for all of our returning citizens who face so many obstacles in their newfound freedom."
* Name has been changed.
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