Johnna smiled as she watched her 9-year-old son jump out of the car and run to the front door. Devin loved being the first inside after a family outing. But as soon as the boy opened the door, everything unraveled. The house was full of police officers with guns drawn. They forced Devin and his little sister to lie on the kitchen floor while they handcuffed Johnna and read her her rights.
It felt like a bad dream.
LOSING WEIGHT, THEN CUSTODY
Two years earlier, Johnna Hose was thrilled to have become a mom again. She had been just 17 when Devin was born, but now she felt much more prepared. Little Jordyn was a joy, and Johnna had all she wanted—a boy and a girl. If only she could lose those extra pounds.
Johnna's neighbor told her about something that she said could help: crystal meth. Johnna was ready to try anything, and the neighbor was right. She dropped the weight. What she didn't plan for was a dark and fast descent into addiction.
After her arrest, Johnna's parents took custody of Devin and Jordyn. Johnna was sentenced to 13 years in prison for committing identity theft at work to pay for drugs.
KEEPING MOM 'IN THE PICTURE'
Sitting in her cell at the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, California, Johnna constantly thought of her children. She felt like her heart would break. They were so little—Jordyn was only 3—and they didn't understand why Mommy couldn't come home. Johnna remembers praying, "God, if you help me get out of this, I want to be able to go and help other people like me with addiction problems."
One day, a chaplain came and told her about a program called Angel Tree®Christmas. He explained that by signing up, Johnna would allow a church or other organization to bring gifts to her children—along with a personal note from her and the chance to receive a Bible. Johnna had grown up in church and knew faith was important, even though hers had grown cold. And she loved the idea of her kids getting gifts—so she filled out the application.
Several months later, Johnna's mom received a phone call from a woman named Mona Davies from Community Outreach Ministry, an Angel Tree partner organization. Mona asked about what the children wanted or needed for Christmas, and she invited the family to a Christmas party where they would receive their gifts.
'Mom still wanted to be part of the family—and I loved her for that.'
Devin, remembers the impact Angel Tree Christmas had on him as a child:
I always thought of Angel Tree as a way for my mom to feel like she was still connected to me and my sister—that she wasn't out of the picture, she was still trying hard to be there, even though she was incarcerated. She still wanted to be part of the family—and I loved her for that. I was old enough to know that she wasn’t buying the gifts, but her participation showed that she wanted to be connected to us.
GIVING THE PAIN TO GOD
The family’s participation in Angel Tree Christmas led to another special opportunity: Angel Tree camping. Thanks to sponsorship by Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™, Devin started attending Christian summer camp for free.
Devin's grandparents sent him and his sister to private Christian school, and he went to church with them on Sundays. But Devin wasn't excited about the idea of being a Christian until he went to camp.
"Going to camp and being with kids aged 8 to high school that are praising God, loving God, giving Him everything was amazing," he says. "I didn't feel judged; I could be myself—even with all the wrong that's in me—and be completely loved."
The joy he saw, and the acceptance he experienced led him to make an important decision.
"I accepted Christ at camp the first year I was there," Devin says. "I became aware of who God was, what He did for me, and that He wants to do something with my life."
Devin loved making new friends and playing volleyball and tetherball. But even more than that, he loved the times of worship. Devin is a gifted musician, and as he got older, he was asked to help lead the singing.
"The music had the biggest effect on me," he says. "That was where I felt most connected to God. In worship, I could pour my heart out, feel His presence, and I didn't care about anything around me."
'[Going to camp,] I didn't feel judged; I could be myself—even with all the wrong that's in me—and be completely loved.'
A JOYFUL REUNION
Johnna served five and a half years in prison. For part of her sentence, she was incarcerated near her family, and her mom brought her children to see her most weekends. But for two years, she lived at a prison farther away, and visits were rarer.
"I was OK if I hadn't seen them, but then after they came for a family visit, I'd be a wreck for the next week," she recalls.
But Johnna was grateful to have parents who were willing to care for her children so selflessly.
"My mother was very involved with the school and the church," Johnna says. "They did everything that at that time I couldn't do for my kids. They continuously allowed me to be part of everything and part of every decision, which was amazing, too. My parents were great, and I feel like my children flourished during that time because they were with them."
Finally, the day came for Johnna's release. Her mother brought the kids for a visit, and Johanna scooped 8-year-old Jordyn up in her arms.
"Mommy's going home," she told her.
"Really?" Jordyn demanded. "Like home home?"
"Yeah," Johnna replied. "I'm going with you."
Reunited at last, the family enjoyed a meal at Denny's and then drove home to adjust to living together again.
'Mommy's going home. I'm going with you.'
PAYING IT FORWARD
Things weren't perfectly smooth. At times, the children struggled with the ways Johnna did things differently than their grandparents.
"I wasn't a disciplinarian for five years, and now I'm back in their lives," Johnna says. "So there were some bumps in the road, but I know that they were glad I was home. They were glad to be home with me."
Right after their first Angel Tree Christmas, Johnna's mother had called Mona Davies to ask how she could help the following year. It became her tradition to help with calling caregivers and organizing gift tags. And now that Johnna was home, she was eager to jump in and help, too.
"I felt like it was important to give back," Johnna says.
Volunteering with Angel Tree is now a family affair. Johnna has been out of prison for 11 years, but she and her husband never miss a chance to impart hope to Angel Tree families at the annual Community Outreach Ministry party. Johnna says Angel Tree is important for two reasons.
"When you're a parent, a child wants to know that their parent is thinking about them regardless of where they are," she says. "And then I also think it's important that because, especially with the Christmas parties that we give, we tell the story of Jesus and how God can help you in your life where you are. That you're not alone, and there's other families that are going through a struggle just like you, whether you're the parent or the child. I think it’s a great gift we can give the families."
Volunteering with Angel Tree is now a family affair.
A SECOND CHANCE
Due to her criminal record, Johnna struggled to find and keep work when she was released. She held one position for over a year, believing her past had been disclosed by the temp agency that found her the job. But it hadn't, and despite her stellar performance, when her record came to light, her employment was terminated.
"The job situation was very difficult because I feel like I'd done my time, I came home, give me a chance. I've shown you that I'm a very hard worker … and I just want a chance," Johnna says. "And there's a lot of closed-minded people out there that just don't want to give you a second chance."
Eventually, Johnna decided to work in substance abuse treatment—a field where she says people are more understanding of a criminal past. Fulfilling her promise made to God so many years ago, she counsels families in the admissions department of a treatment center in Malibu, California. Johnna says it is both draining and rewarding.
"I am able to tell my story daily … to addicts or their family and say, 'I know your son is here right now, your daughter's here right now, but it doesn't have to be like this. Let me tell you what I went through and how I'm on the other side.'"
Fulfilling her promise made to God so many years ago, Johnna counsels families in the admissions department of a treatment center in Malibu, California.
THE LOVE FACTOR
Johnna's children are now in their 20s, establishing careers and lives of their own. But the family is still close, and they are grateful for the way Angel Tree brought comfort to them during their hardest years.
Devin sums it up as the "love factor."
"If I remember one thing about Angel Tree, it's the 'love factor,'" Devin says. "Everyone that worked there, the volunteers—they just always expressed love to people that they don't even know. That makes the kids feel like they are not alone, that they are loved. They are in a situation they couldn't control. But the love factor warms up anyone's heart."
'The kids feel like they are not alone, that they are loved. They are in a situation they couldn't control. But the love factor warms up anyone's heart.'