Fred Mendrin may be done with gangs and drugs, but does his retirement mean he's also done with Prison Fellowship?
In 1970, Fred Mendrin went to prison on a drug possession conviction. Fred sought respect and increased self-esteem in gang membership. Instead, his gang-related activity earned him an even longer stay. After hitting rock bottom, he found everything he ever really needed in a relationship with Christ.
In 1985, when Fred paroled out of a prison in Vacaville, California, he began working for a local ministry. He became an entrepreneur. He also volunteered for about five years leading classes for what's now known as the Prison Fellowship Academy®. By 2013, he was an employee of Prison Fellowship®.
Fred will retire from his role as a Prison Fellowship ambassador on June 30, 2021. But don't be fooled. He still plans to work—building up God's Kingdom. Prison Fellowship sat down with Fred and asked him to share his favorite moments from his years of service at Prison Fellowship, how people have responded to his story of redemption, and what his next chapter might look like.
Prison Fellowship: Can you share some favorite moments working with Prison Fellowship?
Fred Mendrin: Going back into [prison] in Vacaville, California, about 2019. David Mariscal, the [Prison Fellowship] field director in that area, had a Prison Fellowship Hope Event™ in the chapel. My wife, Liliya, and I were able to go in. That was amazing, to be able to walk through the front entrance—the same entrance that I walked out of in 1985 [when I was released]. Walking down to the chapel and remembering the times that I walked in that hallway—it was amazing. I shared a message of hope with the incarcerated citizens there. I was speaking from the same place where the chaplain allowed me to share my testimony the Sunday before I paroled.
Another favorite moment was going back into San Quentin Prison. I was in San Quentin between '72 and '76. To be able to walk through the front entrance, and look at the building that I was locked up in for the four years there, and all the [gang-related] madness that happened there … And just that I was walking. I was free to go in and out! I went into the chapel there and was able to tell my story. Pretty amazing!
That's so unique to go back into California prisons where you served so much time. How do prison staff respond when they know your backstory?
Wardens have always been warm and accepting of me. It's been special to be able to go in and interact with the staff, especially when you sense appreciation. That is always uplifting.
When I told one prison staff person, who I’ve worked with often, that I was going to be retiring in June, she goes, "Look, whatever you want to do, if you want to come back in you can." So, in relation to Christian work, meeting the needs, and giving hope to the incarcerated citizens, I have an open door with her.
Have you had a moment where you said to yourself, "Wow, my life has really turned around"?
[President and CEO] James J. Ackerman invited me to Los Angeles to share at Salem Media Group’s yearly convention. He wanted me to come there and share my testimony. He showed the one video that Prison Fellowship has done on me. At the end of the video, he says, "Now, I would like you to meet Fred Mendrin." I'm walking up to the stage, and I hear applause. I turn around, and all these people are standing and applauding. I started tearing up and crying.
What was going through your mind in that moment?
I had a poor sense of self-worth all through school and into the prison system. That was one of the motivating factors for me to join the gang and be violent, so that maybe I could be respected. Perhaps I would like myself, respect myself then. At that conference, here's Fred: the old past convict, the murderer, the assaulter, this sinner. And here are these successful, godly business leaders standing up and applauding me. I was just in total amazement. In awe of what God in Christ has done in my life.
After retirement, what's next?
I will be working with a dear friend and brother in Christ, Patrick Griffin, whom I've known since 1982. He and I were in prison together. I'm going to be working with him in a ministry called Acts29Ministry.
Why is it called Acts29?
There are 28 chapters in Acts. So, 29 means that that chapter is being rewritten daily by our acts of service to those our Lord and Savior directs us to love.
When people continue to hear your story in your new phase of service, what do you hope they will take away?
Hope—for their own life and their own restoration. If they look back on my story when they're facing difficult times, I hope they can reflect on how God brought me through—and that they can relate it to the Word of God, and how God brings all His saints through the struggles they go through [1 Corinthians 10:13].
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