God used a volunteer opportunity behind bars to help one woman find herself.
At a volunteer meeting, Prison Fellowship Academy® Director Tammy Franklin, who served at Mabel Basset Correctional Center at the time, had us go around the room and explain why we go into prison. I don't think there was a dry eye in that room.
Each volunteer's story was so personal and represents the love of our Father, and the never-ending abundance of grace and mercy on our lives. Several of the volunteers were formerly incarcerated women themselves. The love of Christ oozes out of them. Above all, they want to give back and to share the very same that was done for them—to speak life into these women and let them know it's not too late, it's not over, and they have so much value.
When it was my turn, I shared how I will never ever forget my first time at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. It was a Prison Fellowship Hope EventTM, an event that introduces prisoners to the hope of Jesus Christ and features inspirational speakers, musicians, and other attractions. During the event, standing in the very back for almost an hour trying to take it all in, I couldn’t move or speak. All these women worshiping on the yard, hundreds of women in orange.
It was one of the most beautiful sights for me.
'DON'T LET ME FORGET'
While watching the women worship, so many different scenes from my past began to run through my mind. There were a lot of horrible things I had done. First, there were the drugs I had dealt that helped destroy lives and homes. Then, there was my time in the sex industry and the marriages I helped to destroy. Moreover, I have overdosed several times in my life. I should have been standing right there with those women for all I had done, yet I hadn't been caught.
That's the moment everything in my life made sense. That volunteering in prison is where I belong, with these women. I saw God's grace in my life.
This thought came to my mind that I've never forgotten. I remember telling God, Don't ever let me forget the pit You drug me out of, and that I am no better, and they are no less. This is where I want to be. I want to be with these women.
That day, I passed out a lot of the free Bibles that Prison Fellowship® routinely supplies to prisoners by the thousands. You would see hands coming through the crowd just to get the Bibles. It was really emotional for me just to see how almost—I don't want to say desperate—but just kind of like that, like they just wanted these Bibles so much.
MORE HEALING, MORE FREEDOM
Before that day, I was really struggling with anger, mental health, and my own demons from my past. It was a struggle to get through the day. I was still living for myself and not for Christ. Yet every week I would go to the Prison Fellowship Academy inside the prison, and each time it was like God chipped away pieces of this heart of stone. My heart began to soften more and more. I would leave after class, call my husband, and cry all the way home.
I never knew, in a million years, that God was going to use these women, and He was going to use me going to prison to bring more healing and more freedom in my life. That's why I tell the girls, "God used you to help me to heal more." It's just life-changing—being able to go in there volunteering is truly life-changing for me. I have grown with them.
These women will never know how grateful I am for them and for the Academy. It took me going through COVID-19 and not being able to be there for almost a year to realize that the walls I had built to protect myself had become a place to "incarcerate" myself. God used me going to Mabel Bassett to knock those walls down.
A NEXT-LEVEL EXPERIENCE
After my first time at Mabel Bassett, everything in my life finally made sense. I knew without a doubt my purpose and that I was finally home.
Today, we teach conflict resolution. When Tammy asked me to do this class, I told her I probably need to be a student. But you learn from them too; you learn so much from them at the same time. I still feel like I'm a student because I'm learning from them too.
Similarly, God called my sweet friend and her husband to the women in prison. I told her before she went in, "I don't know how to explain it to you, but this is a level of Christ that you have never experienced until you walk into this prison."
Then literally her first week, she texted me and said, "You are so right, I have never experienced [Christ] to this level …" She thanked me for getting her and her husband connected with Tammy.
Soon my husband Greg will be getting his DOC volunteer badge as well. He will join the Prison Fellowship volunteer team, and I am so thankful.
SHARING THE JOY
If you're hesitant to volunteer in prison—because of the stereotype or what TV or the news or whatever image you have in your mind of what that is—I would tell you to set it aside just for a bit. And pray about it. You can't keep me away from them.
I love them, and I love being in the classroom with them. Being a volunteer at Prison Fellowship has truly changed my life.
I think, in a way, it's saved me.
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