PART ONE: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE THE GOSPEL INTO PRISON?
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
INTRODUCING INCARCERATED MEN AND WOMEN TO A SAVIOR
When something breaks the monotony of prison life, it’s no minor event. Even for just a day. This is Oklahoma, the female-incarceration capital of the U.S., where Hope Event™ flyers adorned prison halls at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center and- for the first time- at Kate Barnard Correctional Center in July 2019.
A Prison Fellowship® Hope Event invites prisoners to experience music, fellowship, and prayer and receive a message of hope, tailored just to them. For those who already know Christ, it is a chance to experience Him afresh. For others, can be an opportunity to meet Him.
'It's amazing how a one-time event can plant many seeds.'
—Arlene, Prison Fellowship volunteer
PREPARING THE WAY
Several volunteers start the big day at a local breakfast place. Some stepped off a plane the night before; some are Oklahomans, born and raised. A few have a very personal past with the Oklahoma prison system. Teresa was incarcerated before joining Prison Fellowship as a field director. So was Tammy, who manages the Prison Fellowship Academy at Kate Barnard Correctional Center.
Over coffee and eggs benedict, a few seasoned volunteers recall how ministry to women in prison differs from ministry to men. The group shares what they’re looking forward to, from the live band to the chance to pray for those inside.
"Remember, at Prison Fellowship, PF stands for 'permanently flexible,'" someone jokes. In prison, it's a good rule of thumb. Someone else recommends that everyone fuel up on pancakes and eggs while they can. They'll need the energy.
For some, this is their first time inside a prison facility.
Others, like Stan and Pat Mills, have many years of experience volunteering behind bars.
A PROJECT OF PRAYER
Clear skies and 90-degree temperatures greet more than 50 volunteers for the day's activities. In the lobby, their check-in process follows typical prison protocol: shoes off, pockets empty, hands up for the security wand.
Musical instruments, banners, Bibles, and other supplies pour out of the trailer. Several Prison Fellowship Academy students in gray T-shirts eagerly step up to assist. They turn to carry items to the event space, wearing shirts with INMATE stamped in bold black letters on the back. The front reads HOPE in vivid blue and green—a welcome contrast to harmful labels that stigmatize people with a criminal history. Criminal. Convict. Offender.
These names have no place when hope comes on the scene.
Criminal. Convict. Offender. These names have no place when hope comes on the scene.
PART TWO: HOPE IN THE HEARTLAND
OUT OF EVERY 100,00 WOMEN IN OKLAHOMA, 152 ARE INCARCERATED
It's quiet on the prison yard. Volunteers circle up for prayer before attendees arrive.
Women file through a gate into the yard, one by one. They pick up Bibles and copies of Inside Journal®, Prison Fellowship's quarterly newspaper for America's prisons.
Tentative observers stand off to the side and near the back, though many eager attendees gather near the front. Some have picnic blankets and coolers of water.
Ashley was 15 when she broke into her ex-boyfriend's house—mostly a stunt just to get his attention. She felt abandoned. That was her first time being arrested, and the first step on a long, grim road. She called it "running wild." No help. No hope.
"It's kind of like hosting a party at someone else's house. We are always conscious of respecting the prison's space and time, and grateful that they allow us into their areas.
"I can't wait to hear the speaker," says one attendee, an incarcerated mother of four. "An event like this can truly mean everything."
'As with anything in prison, the impact of Hope Events is not found in lighting or sound equipment but in the life change and the content of the message.'
—Naomi Faltin, special events coordinator, Prison Fellowship
WORSHIP ON THE YARD
A live band leads the yard in worship, singing lyrics about strength and freedom. Women raise tattooed arms in worship. This is what hope sounds like.
'It helps us not feel forgotten.'
—Incarcerated Woman, Kate Barnard Correctional Center
PART THREE: WORTHY. FORGIVEN. LOVED.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal … . (Ecclesiastes 3:1–3)
Volunteers pass around sheets of paper so every attendee can read along, even with tear-filled eyes, as Annie leads. Together, with one voice, with Scriptural truths they confront the lies of their past.
For so many in the audience, Annie’s message rings true. The themes hit hard: No wound is so deep that Jesus cannot heal it. No one is so far from grace that He will not draw them close.
Volunteers line up at the front, ready to offer prayer to those who ask for it. They lift up prayers for family and children, for futures of promise, for freedom from shame and addiction and fear.
Visitors don’t bring Jesus to prison. He is already there; He has been the whole time.
Days like this remind everyone that His presence is real.
'Before today, I felt ashamed for being a terrible mom. But maybe God has enough grace for even me.'
—Female prisoner, Kate Barnard Correctional Center
HOPE RISING IN OKLAHOMA
The last carts of equipment roll out the gates. The setting sun casts a golden haze in the stillness. Prison gates clang shut as volunteers leave more aware of their own freedom.
Teresa Stanfield is a dedicated volunteer in Oklahoma. Watch her powerful, full-circle story of redemption.
Prisoners return to their cells more aware of their own spiritual freedom.
Since 1991, Prison Fellowship Hope Events have reached more than 700,000 men and women behind bars. The style and content of each event vary from one prison to the next. But one goal remains constant: to meet men and women where they are—and, by God's grace, not to leave them there.
'I may be in prison, but I’ve never felt more free.'
—Incarcerated Woman, Kate Barnard Correctional Center