After her son went to prison, Tara craved hope. She found it with Prison Fellowship.
I'm a wife, a mom, and native Tennessean. For 20 years, I've been a registered nurse working in women's and children's health—I love to help people and children. And I believe that I can't keep all the hard parts of my life a secret when they can help others.
In 2017, my son Will* was sentenced to prison. It wasn't the first time he'd been in trouble with the law. However, this time, he was charged with manufacturing methamphetamines, among other things. He was in his early 20s facing 12 years behind bars. So, I thought, "Maybe this will be the thing that gets his attention."
The experience got my attention, too. Will's incarceration was different than anything we'd ever encountered as a family. I didn't know exactly what to expect. I had heard that violence and understaffing could make prison a difficult place to be. And now, my son was there.
Will told me he felt like it was dangerous to leave his cell. It seemed understaffed. And, in Will's experience, the staff didn't seem to intervene quickly in dangerous situations. I didn't know what each day would hold or what phone call I would get.
SERVING TIME TOGETHER
As the mom of a prisoner, I felt like I was serving time, too. Then, in 2020, COVID-19 hit. Due to the pandemic, a lot of programs had to pause. And of course, due to health concerns, prisons closed to visitors, so I couldn't see Will.
I needed hope. Before long, I found Prison Fellowship® and started looking into its resources. I signed up for emails and received stories of hope, straight to my inbox. The success stories helped me know that my son, too, could have a brighter future.
During Will's incarceration, I learned how damaging prison culture can be. Some of our phone conversations frightened me. I feared for his safety. And I kept thinking, "There has to be a better way." Soon, I developed a passion to change prison culture for the better.
Then, I put my passion into action.
SPEAKING UP FOR JUSTICE
Prison Fellowship's advocacy team was my avenue to get involved. I participated in their Outrageous Justice small-group study and soon applied to become a Prison Fellowship Justice Ambassador and began volunteering. Krista, a senior Justice Ambassador specialist, asked me to write a letter to the editor for the Tennessean, a daily newspaper in Nashville—something I'd never done in my life! But with a little training and guidance, I did it. And in that letter, I shared my personal story about my son.
Before, I'd never even posted on Facebook about my son's incarceration. But I prayed about speaking up, telling my story, and stepping out as an advocate. Prison Fellowship was with me every step of the way, meeting with me and providing the information I needed to be confident.
Another big highlight of my time as an advocate was my first phone call with Sen. Shane Reeves and Prison Fellowship staff about some legislation we wanted to support. I felt that it went very well, and he seemed very receptive. When I got off that call, I was like, "Oh, that was so great. I can totally do this." It fueled me to want to do even more.
All of this got me thinking about what happens after his sentence, beyond the gates. Reentry needs, proportional sentencing, alternatives to incarceration—these are all important issues, and really, they impact all of us.
A CHANGED HEART
Today, my son Will is home from prison on parole. He's 27 now. He came home to a closet full of clothes and a family who loves him—a better situation than many people have. In many ways, he has still struggled to adjust to freedom, to technology, to making friends. Reentry is hard. But I'm so proud of him. He comes to church with my husband and me. He has a job. We live in a small town in Tennessee, and people are very thankful to have him home. I'm thankful to see him reintegrating, working, and trying to engage in the community.
I've grown so much through these experiences. Before, I might have been colder toward justice issues. But my heart has changed. Now, it bothers me when other people don't care about people who have a criminal record. Many people still say, "Lock them up and throw away the key." I wish people had more compassion to see all men and women as human and worthy of second chances.
If there's something nudging you toward advocacy, then explore why. Decide whether it's something that's truly near to your heart. Through Prison Fellowship, I have genuinely had many resources and people helping me to advocate. So, I'm not overwhelmed with trying to figure it all out on my own. All I had to do was reach out and say, "Yes, I'm willing to do it."
* Name has been changed.
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