When Patrick Thompson received the call to come down to the prison counselor’s office, he expected to hear good news. Then the counselor broke the news that Patrick’s father had died.
“It hit me like a bag of rocks,” recalls Patrick. “That was the last thing I wanted to hear.”
Sitting in the counselor’s office, Patrick wept. He thought back to the last time he spoke to his father one month prior. How he’d never speak to him again. How he’d finally started to become the person his father wanted him to be.
A PRODIGAL COMES HOME
Patrick was born in Los Angeles, the middle of five children. His parents, who had emigrated from the Caribbean, settled in California and attended an Anglican church where Patrick first heard about Jesus. But his faith would not become real to him for many years.
When Patrick first went to prison, he was a man running from God. His early days of incarceration were dark, a time of separation from God and his family. Back then, Patrick was part of a gang, dealing with prison politics and trying to find a place to belong. He thought the gang life created some sense of purpose, but every night he went to bed in his cell feeling empty.
While at Centinela State Prison, Patrick enrolled in The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), a program facilitated by Prison Fellowship® volunteers in coordination with World Impact. TUMI is a Bible college-level program that trains Christian leaders in prison who can build the church both behind the walls and on the outside.
“The beauty of TUMI was to dig in and find out exactly who I was,” says Patrick. “When you find out who you are in Christ, things begin to change.”
In TUMI, Patrick engaged with rigorous biblical curriculum and found belonging in a community of believers. He rediscovered the Jesus he learned about in his youth, and this time, he began to develop a personal relationship with Him. Over time, he caught the vision for a new generation of dedicated servant leaders who are equipped to accomplish the work of their Father in Heaven.
THE FAMILY OF GOD
When his earthly father passed away, Patrick was devastated. It was a watershed moment, not only in his incarceration, but in his life.
“It's like I got a revelation when he passed,” said Patrick. “It’s hard to make a change in prison, because I had to challenge myself. [I thought], ‘God, are You real? What You said about the power that dwells in me, is that something that can carry me through here?’”
In the face of great loss, Patrick looked to his Heavenly Father for guidance. Patrick sought every class and seminar on the prison yard, surrounding himself with the family of God.
While he found comfort and belonging in a spiritual community, Patrick still felt the pain of separation from his earthly family and children. Patrick’s past choices hurt them deeply. Throughout his incarceration, they grew more distant from him.
After one Bible seminar, Patrick learned about Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™, a program that provides Christmas gifts and a personal message to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. By signing up for the program, Patrick would allow church volunteers to deliver a gift to his children with his name on it. Patrick didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“It could really brighten their spirits knowing that mom or dad, who’s been missing from their life, still thought about them and still sent them a gift,” Patrick explains.
'When you find out who you are in Christ, things begin to change.'
Patrick never had much contact with his young children—a burden that weighed on him heavily at Christmas. But, through Angel Tree®, he felt that God had opened a door. Even if his family didn’t receive him yet, they could receive a gift and know he remembered them.
THE LIFE HE WAS MEANT TO LIVE
Patrick soon learned how Angel Tree invites and equips churches to enfold Angel Tree families into church life. Through Angel Tree, Patrick’s children and their mother connected with a local church community to receive support and encouragement beyond Christmas. His kids attended Angel Tree sports camps, where they heard the Gospel and received life lessons from top-tier athletes and coaches.
Incarceration strained Patrick’s family ties to a breaking point. Their journey to reconciliation has been a struggle, and their relationship is still far from perfect. But Angel Tree offered Patrick a tangible opportunity to be a dad in some way. This renewed his sense of hope and dignity.
In 2017, Patrick was released from prison. Today he lives north of San Diego, California, where he works two jobs and stays active in his local church. He recently got married and purchased a home. As he continues to pray for his loved ones and follows God’s leading, Patrick finds purpose in serving his community. He says looks to the future with eyes wide open.
“God has blessed me tremendously, and it's not because I did anything good,” says Patrick. “It’s because I adhered to His Word, and I didn't keep the Word to myself. I shared that Word with the different ministries that He blessed me with.”
'God has blessed me tremendously, and it's not because I did anything good. It’s because I adhered to His Word, and I didn't keep the Word to myself. I shared that Word with the different ministries that He blessed me with.'