PART ONE: GOING HOME
It's May 30, 2018, and William Jones is going home. He has been incarcerated at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, for more than three years.
"I found out [I was going home] 15 days ago," he says. His prison chaplain brought him the news. "I hugged him, and we cried together. Two big, grown men standing there, crying together.”
William's parents, wife, and family wait for him outside the prison walls. "The fact that I'm not there to ... help them—it really lets me know how selfish I had been in my ways," William says. "The opportunity to get back out there—to get [the] second chance that God has given me … man! I'm without words. Speechless."
William arrived at the Carol Vance Unit on December 2, 2015, at 5:20 a.m. The first person he met after walking through the prison gate said, "God bless you, and welcome to Carol Vance." In the next five minutes, five other men greeted William the same way, adding, "There’s no other unit like this unit."
Initially, William thought the guys were a bit strange. But after just two days in the facility, he changed his tune.
"I saw that [the prisoners] were receiving something real," William explains. "It was [a hope] that I had been needing. … There was nothing fake about what was happening in these guys' lives."
Hungry for the hope he saw in his fellow prisoners, William enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy®—the catalyst for life change in the men he'd met.
Each year, more than 600,000 people like William are released from American prisons. Two out of 3 of them will be rearrested within just a few years. The Academy is Prison Fellowship's response to this problem.
The program takes incarcerated men and women through a yearlong, transformational journey, creating opportunities for participants to develop and practice biblically based values in a healthy community environment. Graduates become change agents prepared to take their places as good citizens inside and outside of prison.
'My name is William Jones. I've been incarcerated here for 3 1/2 years. And today, I'm about to go home.'
In the Academy, William grew stronger in his relationship with his family, his friends, and God. "Now [God] is first. It's because of Him [that] I stand before you today as a man about to be released," he says. "I'm just blessed, man."
Now William is itching to go—to take off his prison uniform and put on fresh, new clothes; to hug his wife and family; to live a full life on the outside.
"I appreciate things today better than I've ever appreciated them before," he explains. "I love my wife like I've never loved her before, because I know what real love is now."
As the reality of his impending release sets in, William doesn't hold back his excitement as he says, "I'm about to get out of prison. I've had these white clothes on for 3 1/2 years! I'm about to get out of these clothes! ... I'm about to hug my wife and not to be told that it's time to stop. [It's] not a two-hour visit. … It's time! This is my season!"
'God told me this would happen if I trusted Him, and I trust Him. I'm going home!'
PART TWO: TOTALLY DIFFERENT
Finally, after more than three years, William Jones walked out of prison a free man—and a changed man.
After his release in May 2018, William returned home to his wife and son. Drawing from the God-centered environment he experienced in the Academy, William is creating an atmosphere of love and peace with his family. You can feel the warmth when you walk into their home.
NEW MAN, NEW VALUES
"The values that [the Academy] instilled are self values. And once you are able to instill self values in you, then you can begin to expect them from others. So it really changes the atmosphere of people that you have around you," William says.
A crucial lesson for returning citizens is recognizing that the people you surround yourself with and the values they hold create the atmosphere of your life. When William came home, he didn't need people from his previous life or the distraction and temptation they would bring. And that's because they don't share the same values.
"Because now, guess what? I'm honest. I'm loving. I live through integrity. I do the right thing when nobody's looking, now," he says.
'I'm honest. I'm loving. I live through integrity. I do the right thing when nobody's looking, now.'
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Like many formerly incarcerated people, William was nervous about his release. "It frightened me, not because I knew I was coming home to my wife," he recalls, "but because I knew I was coming home a different man than what I was when I left. And that frightened me some, because I knew I was going to be walking into an area of my life that I had to walk differently than I walked in a long time—than I'd ever walked. I had to walk as a real man ... that's being guided by the Spirit of God now."
Part of being that kind of man is putting others above self, something William now understands from reading the Bible and his time in the Academy. "Now I can't be selfish anymore," he says. "I had lived selfish. Selfish put me away for … years. Selfishness took me away from the woman I love for years."
'Now I can't be selfish anymore. I had lived selfish. Selfish put me away for … years. Selfishness took me away from the woman I love for years.'
THE MAN GOD HAS CALLED WILLIAM TO BE
Today, steadily employed and focused on loving his family, William is proactive integrating himself back into society, becoming the man God has called him to be. "Have I been perfect in my steps? No. Nobody's going to be perfect. But do I get right back up after I realize I'm not perfect?" he says. "Oh, I seek perfection every day. And I seek it through Him now. I'm not guided by my thoughts anymore or my will. [Rather,] I'm guided by His. … He has just immensely blessed me. ... He blessed me from the day I got out."
'I'm not guided by my thoughts anymore or my will. Rather, I'm guided by His.'