Another Life Begins in Prison

JaredOwensHeadShot

I love sharing stories about people who used prison as a transformative experience. This is a great example. Jared Owens spent 18 years in federal prison for drug charges. During that time he honed his artistic skills by doing portraits and other art pieces for clients as his “hustle”.  He used the time in a positive way to develop skills he can use after release. It worked. He is now a renowned and respect artist in Charleston, SC and beyond. His work sells for thousands of dollars and he is even using his fame to help children and others

If you’re facing prison, I hope you will see it as an opportunity to build and/or hone a skill to improve your life and the lives of others. Whether it is art, business, culinary arts or some other interest, find something on which you can focus your time and energy.

 

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 Phys.org 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:

http://www.cppministry.com/

http://prisonministry.net/directory/categories/penpal/

http://www.jailandprisonministries.org/programs/penpalministry.html

God bless!!

Speaking of Prison (Preparation)

paulprojectspeech

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 david@paulproject.org or at 919-602-9612.

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.

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!!

What a blessing!

man-raising-handsOne of our clients is in jail awaiting a transfer to prison to begin serving a 13-year sentence. His mother reached out to us a couple of months ago asking for help in understanding what to expect and how to help her son prepare for the next 13 years. My heart breaks whenever I hear about these stories, but I’m so grateful we have an opportunity to be of assistance. We corresponded with the mother and her son, providing information, encouragement and suggestions about how to prepare for incarceration. I also shared the Good News of Christ with them. I just heard from the mother that the son has connected with some Christian men in jail, he is safe and that he has accepted Christ as his Lord and savior. Praise God!! This is definitely an answered prayer.

This by no means guarantees he will be safe or have an easy time in prison. But it does mean he now has eternal security and has access to the strength and wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit to help him navigate the uncharted waters of the next 13 years. Please keep them in your prayers. And please reach out to us if you or a loved one is facing prison. We are here to help you, pray for and with you and to provide you with encouragement and hope.

Prison can make you sick

images (1)The only thing worse than being in prison, is being sick in prison. Thankfully, I only experienced a few colds and allergies during my five years. But I knew of many folks who caught the flu and other major ailments during their stay. This article about a flu outbreak at a Federal prison in Lorretto, Pa. reminded me of that. Illness in prison spreads like wildfire. It can get so bad that the prison goes on lock down, prohibits visits and takes other extreme measures.

My advice for those preparing for prison is to get as healthy as possible before going in. Lose weight if you need to, exercise, start eating right and build up your body to help you fight off the numerous bacteria, viruses and other creatures floating around your cell. Also, when you get there, stock up on a few of the over-the-counter medicines available through the commissary. You should be able to get allergy medicine, cough medicine, antacids, anti-diarrheal and other medications to help you get through your sickness. Going to medical is an option, but it most cases they will just tell you get medicine from the commissary.

 

Article – Surviving Prison

safb_classroomhttp://www.businessinsider.com/advice-about-prison-2015-2

An interesting article on the Marshall Project in NY State. The program is designed to help individuals survive in prison. This one is more about physical survival than our focus, which is more about using the time to improve one’s self. But it does offer some relevant advice as it is difficult to work on improving yourself if you are fearful for your safety. The article works to connect the program’s premise to business. It isn’t a tough stretch. I always thought it might be interesting to write a book like – “Everything I Needed to Know about Business I learned in Prison”

 

Prison Program – Transforming trauma into hope

Leadership-and-personal-transformationI ran across this interesting program sponsored by the Urban Faith ministry. I don’t know a lot about this organization, but this particular program looks like it has some real value and offers hope and structure for those in prison. Both of which are critical in creating an environment where you can thrive, not just survive. Here are the 8 steps in the program. I especially relate to the character reformation. This is truly where God has transformed me. I went from a man of dishonor, to a man striving for honor and integrity. I hope you are able to experience this same transformation in your prison experience.

  1. Awakenings: Enhancing Spiritual Wholeness. Awakenings helps participants find meaning from their experiences, confronting thoughts and habits that contribute to current beliefs and behavior.
  2. Building Community helps participants learn to resolve conflicts in constructive and meaningful ways and to gain “faith solutions to life’s trials and conflicts.”
  3. Character Reformation is a time set aside to address how one’s thoughts and attitudes can themselves perpetuate negative circumstances and interactions.
  4. Daily Family Meetings contribute to participants’ sense of belonging and help foster abiding relationships within family groups.
  5. Faith Fundamentals shore up the foundations of participants’ spiritual beliefs and offers the building blocks for a committed faith.
  6. Outside Brothers meet with participants to connect them with the outside community in solid, caring one-on-one relationships.
  7. The Trauma/Healing Awareness Workshop allows participants to examine how trauma has affected their lives, and about breaking the trauma cycle.
  8. Victim Awareness gives participants the opportunity to reflect on the effects of various crimes on victims, their families, and their communities.

Journal entry – 6/10/2011- Average day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother entry from my prison journal from FCI Elkton:

Low-key day. Nothing too extraordinary. Feel pretty good. Grateful for everything God provides. I had good talk with Brian (friend). Very grateful for his friendship.

Haven’t talked to Lisa yet today.

I’ve been trying to avoid negative people. They seem to be everywhere here. So many people just don’t have Christ and are unhappy. I think they would be unhappy even if they weren’t in prison. They are missing the peace that with a relationship with God.

Praise God!!

Comment (2/19/15) – I had many days like this in prison. Especially after the first year or so. After a while I began to see that I can be content no matter my circumstance (Phil. 4:11). That I can use the time for something positive and that there are opportunities to help others and get out of my own head. Also, I appreciated having one or two friends with whom I could talk about things going on outside and in. I didn’t trust many people, but did find a couple on which I could depend.