Email improves communications for Vermont prisoners

My wife and I during a visit at FCC Petersburg

My wife and I during a visit at FCC Petersburg

While I was serving my five years in Federal prison, the BOP rolled out an email system for prisoners. It allows inmates to correspond with friends and families on a more consistent basis. In Federal prison you get 300 minutes of phone calls per month, or about 10 minutes per day. While it was a blessing to be able to speak to my wife almost every day, it was difficult to deepen a relationship or deal with issues that cropped up. Plus, I was shipped off to FCI Elkton in Ohio which was about 9 hours away from home, so our visits were very limited.

It looks like states like Vermont and others are implementing a new email system for their inmates to help improve communications with family. This is a good step forward, but hopefully they will not use it to replace personal visits as some institutions have tried to do with video chat systems. Nothing can replace the personal and intimate moments inmates experience with their family during visits. This should never be replaced by technology.

Worship a welcome respite in prison

Power of Praise Band

Power of Praise Band

Caught this article on how worship time in prison was a welcome respite from the stress and strain of being and inmate. From my experience I certainly agree with this. I often looked forward to the hour or two on Sunday and the few times we had outside groups come in to worship with us. It was great to be in a positive atmosphere and spend time singing, praising and fellowshipping with other believers.

Some of my best memories are of listening to a band called the Power of Praise. They graciously visited us a few times a year at FCI Elkton. The chapel was usually packed and we sang along with them as they sang contemporary Christian songs and traditional hymns. It was especially emotional at Christmas when they would sing carols like O Holy Night and Silent Night. Man, it tore me up! We had other great groups come in as well. Like the Mennonite Church whose choir performed for us a few times each year. What great voices! So comforting and uplifting.

I encourage you to get involved in worship during your incarceration. It is a welcome respite from the daily struggle.

The Power of the Pen (Pal)

Writer_ImageI can’t express how important it is to feel connected to people on the outside while you are serving prison time. From the time I entered custody I began writing letters to my wife, family and friends. With only 300 minutes per month of phone time in Federal prison, it is important to utilize mail and email (where possible) to stay in touch with people who can encourage you and hold you accountable while you spend the time behind razor wire.

This article from discusses a study that demonstrates the power of the pen pal for those is prison. According to the study, “Prisoners said the scheme made them feel less isolated, helped change their self-identity, provided a distraction, boosted their happiness and raised their hopes for life beyond prison.” As someone who did five years in prison, I can’t agree more!!

Some guys I saw were full of shame and depressed. They chose to isolate and not stay connected to friends and family. There were also guys who had no one on the outside with whom to communicate. These were the guys who seemed to have the most trouble using their time for something productive. They felt alone and unmotivated to improve themselves.

If you are facing prison, take the time to get contact information for people who are supportive and encouraging. And once you get inside, take the time to write them regularly, even if you don’t hear back from them it will help you to put into words your experience. Many churches and ministries provide pen pal services to which you can subscribe. Here are a few I found:

God bless!!

Speaking of Prison (Preparation)


Speaking about the Paul Project at the Christian Legal Society monthly meeting.

We had a great opportunity to speak with a number of lawyers last Friday when the Paul Project spoke to the Raleigh Christian Legal Society. While it was a relatively small crowd, there was some great interest in our story and our ministry to provide encouragement, information and support to individuals and their families facing prison time. We had questions about safety in prison, how our marriage survived, what we can do to help others prepare for their prison sentence and how we came up with the idea for the ministry. We shared how God used the time to transform my life and our marriage.

Thanks to Rik Lovett and the Raleigh Christian Legal Society for the opportunity. We would love to speak with other organizations about the Paul Project prison preparation ministry. You can reach us at or at 919-602-9612.

Journal Entry – FCC Petersburg – 7/1/13

wreath(This post was written during my second summer at FCC Petersburg. There is no A/C at this prison, so it is extremely hot. But as you can tell by this post, there are some things more important than air conditioning.)

Summer is starting to kick in. We have 4 fans in our room and that helps. The loss of 60 pounds also makes it more bearable!! I just pray and thank God for all He gives me. I wouldn’t trade being here for the A/C at Elkton any day. We’re able to have nightly Bible study here, share our faith and be around a handful of Christian brothers!! What a blessing!

John S.’s dad is very sick. Hospice is with him and he is only expected to live another day. I’ve been praying with John and for his family. I’ve asked God for the ability to help him. Also makes me so grateful for the good health of my parents. John is doing better and he seems to be surrendering his father and his will to God. I am saddened by his loss and also joyful that his father is saved and will be joining Christ in heaven.

Note: John’s dad passed away the next day.

(I saw many men lose loved ones while they were in prison. Men lost parents, wives, brothers, sisters and children. It is probably one of the toughest times. As you prepare to enter prison, keep in mind that this is a possibility and prepare for it emotionally, financially and spiritually.)

Special Circumstance – Sex offenders in prison

There are a few groups who are more at risk than others in prison. Snitches and sex offenders rank at the bottom of the barrel. As my crime was a sex offense I can relate to the fear felt by those who hear the stories of the danger and abuse heaped on sexual offenders. While I didn’t experience any physical abuse, I was on the receiving end of verbal abuse. I chose to be honest about my crime and put my fate in God’s hands. For five years he protected me and kept me safe.

So if you are convicted of a sexual offense how can you prepare for prison? Most of the preparation is the same as anyone facing prison. But there are a few things you can do to help you and your family prepare.

1. Get help – If you are guilty, it is critical you reach out and get help. Work with a therapist and/or pastoral counselor to help you understand how you got to where you were and how to overcome the problem. My wife and I spent hundreds of hours in counseling over the 8 months prior to my incarceration. It was very expensive, but worth every penny. It will help you repair your relationships, overcome your addictions and create a plan for the future. It will also help you when you stand in front of the judge.

2. Decide early how you want to handle it when you are asked about your crime. And you will be asked. I chose early on to be honest. I started out trying to lie, but I couldn’t do it. Plus, with Google, anyone can find out the truth with a quick call to their family. For me, I believe my remorse was obvious and that by being honest I was setting a level of respect. But you have to do what you feel comfortable with. There are people who are harmed because of their crime, I won’t lie about that.

3. Create a circle of a few friends whom you trust. It isn’t easy to know who to trust in prison. But once you get a sense of people, you can start to create a circle of people who protect each other’s back. Plus, you are less of a target if you are not a loner. For me, I chose to be part of a Christian group and the church. This offered me both spiritual support and a sense of security.

So, are there risks to being a sex offender in prison? Yes. Can you survive? Yes. If you would like to discuss this in more detail you can contact us and we will gladly help you.




NY Times – Let Prisoners Take College Courses

safb_classroomThis is a nice op-ed piece from a prisoner in Attica who is advocating offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) to inmates through the television system in institutions. It makes perfect sense to me. Sadly, because of our society’s (faulty) mindset that results in warehousing of prisoners rather than offering opportunities to improve themselves and increase their chance of success, we are stuck in a revolving-door cycle of recidivism. I saw it firsthand. While not every inmate will take advantage of these services, those who do will more likely become productive members of society rather than just another statistic.

If you do end up in prison, there are a few opportunities to take classes, learn a trade, and improve your body, mind and spirit. Take advantage of them. Don’t waste the years sitting on your bunk, watching the Real Housewives and learning how to be a better criminal. It is incumbent on us to prove the money invested in these programs delivers results or we will lose them.

Prison phone calls under scrutiny

516e029dd5271.preview-300I’ve written about this issue before, but this NY Times piece made me think it is worthy of additional coverage. I can’t agree more that prison phone systems are a huge burden to prisoners and their families. I understand there is a cost involved in operating these systems, monitoring the calls and paying for equipment. But it just seems the cost to the prisoner and family is exorbitant. With VOIP technology and other innovations, making calls is cheaper than ever. And monitoring these calls should be getting simpler and more efficient as well as technology improves.

In my thinking, and without full knowledge, a fair price would be around five cents per minute with no connection fees. This would seem to be reasonable for the inmates and provide a profit for the providers. In the Federal system, if you don’t have a local number it will cost you 26 cents per minute. With 300 minutes, this comes to $78 per month. When the average pay for an inmate is about $20 month, you can see how much of a burden this can be. in county jails it is even more burdensome, costing as much as $1.50/minute plus a $2.00 connection fee.

So for now, if you are preparing to enter prison, I strongly suggest getting a local number via a cell phone provider if this is possible as it will save you thousands of dollars over the course of your sentence. And this is legal, at least in the Federal system. You just can’t legally use a Vonage-type service to set up a local call. Until the laws are changes, this is the best we can do to reduce the burden on our families.

Stats show prison education cuts recidivism

safb_classroomI ran across this article discussing issues around college education for inmates. There are some great stats that show it is a wise investment for states and non-profits, if their goal is to keep inmates from returning. I know from my experience, choosing to participate in these programs provided a way to not only use my time productively, but to also help me prepare for life after prison. I encourage anyone entering prison to be intentional about selecting the activities in which they participate and to do something to help them prepare for their release, because it will happen. Here are some of the more remarkable stats from the story:

The study found inmates who participated in correctional education, including remedial, vocational and post-secondary education, were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years, a 13 percentage point reduction in the risk of re-offending. 

That means for every dollar spent on correctional education, a state corrections department would save five dollars it would have spent on re-incarceration costs, according to the report.

Feeling free, inside and out

man-raising-handsI can’t explain the feeling I felt so often in prison, that I was more free behind that razor wire than I ever was on the outside. I had been a slave of some addiction from the time I was 9 years old. You name it, I’ve been dependent upon it. Drugs, pornography, food, sex, alcohol, work, fame, money, I tried everything I could think of to fill what Blaise Pascal called the “God-shaped hole in my heart.” But nothing worked, at least not for long.

But one day while I was at FCI Petersburg walking the track on the yard I realized that for the first time in my life I did not have an active addiction controlling my life. That finally, I was truly free. Chuck Colson said, “Prison is nothing compared to the bondage of sin.” I couldn’t agree more. That day as I looked out through the fence, I could honestly say that I felt a sense of peace and freedom I never felt on the outside. Thankfully, that feeling has persisted since I’ve been released.

Where did this peace come from? For me it came from surrendering my life and will to Jesus Christ. To admitting that Christ died for me and that through His blood I am saved from the bondage of all kinds of sin. That I no longer need to try to fill that God-shaped hole.

If you have not taken this step, I hope you will. If you have. Welcome to the family!!