How do you make your life behind bars count?
No one who knew James in his Nebraska high school thought he would end up in prison. Well-liked and talented, James was a star athlete with promise and potential. But he started making destructive choices and running with the wrong crowds.
His poor decisions led to one fateful gang altercation that changed the course of his life. He faced a sentence of 25 years to life behind bars for murder.
James became a bitter, angry man at Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP). Only one thing could soften his hard heart: the power of Christ.
James discovered that Prison Fellowship® had just launched a Prison Fellowship Academy® site at his facility. The Academy takes incarcerated men and women at select facilities through a yearlong, restorative journey. The program uses targeted curriculum, compassionate coaches, and restorative community to replace participants' criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed purpose and biblically based life principles.
James was one of the first applicants to enroll in the Academy at his facility. Guided by the Academy's Good Citizenship Model™, he developed and practiced the program's core values, like responsibility, integrity, and productivity. For the first time, he realized he was capable of change. In his prison cell, James called out to Jesus Christ—not a momentary jailhouse conversion, but an act of sincere surrender.
When James graduated from the Academy in 2017, he stayed on as a clerk and peer mentor. But his exciting chapter with the Academy had only just begun.
AN AGENT OF CHANGE LIVING TO SERVE
In 2020, James was transferred to the Omaha Correctional Center (OCC). Earlier in the year, a new Academy site had opened at that facility. Like at NSP, OCC's Academy participants live together in a dorm and learn to build a healthy community. Known for his positive contributions to his Academy class at NSP, James was identified as someone who could assist new participants as they adjust to the program at OCC.
Now in his 40s and still facing years behind bars, James jumped at the chance to be a change agent in Omaha. He moved into the new Academy dorm in October 2020. Right away, he began helping facilitate orientation for new residents, knowing many of those new faces would become his neighbors and brothers in Christ.
Academy Program Manager John Byrne says, "James knows the type of environment we want to foster. He has really jumped in and has been a real asset. He wants to make his life count."
The Academy team is overjoyed for James' new chapter at OCC. And they are thankful to continue partnering with departments of corrections to transform individuals and entire communities behind bars.
"He realizes he may never get out of prison," John adds, "but he has purpose even if he never gets out."
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