Pell Grants Available to Prisoners?

safb_classroomWhile I don’t agree with a lot of what President Obama has done, his latest move to conduct a pilot project to test the possibility of giving Pell Grants to some inmates is a move in the right direction. Check out this article here for more information. For too long, our country has taken the position that warehousing prisoners rather rehabilitating them is the preferred approach. As someone who has seen the effects of this policy firsthand, I can honestly say it is a miserable failure. While there are some risks that come with offering grants and the like (some inmates seek to become better criminals, not better people), I do believe there are enough people in prison who truly want to become productive members of society to justify giving it a try.

I was actually able to take a college-level entrepreneurship certification course through Kent State University when I was at FCI Elkton. I was in the class with about 10 men and I have to say it was a worthwhile course that provided valuable information and education. We walked away with college credit. For some it was the first time they took classes since high school, where most didn’t even graduate.

I hope this pilot is just the first step in a shift toward training and rehabilitation and away from warehousing. Please encourage your congressional representatives to support these types of initiatives.

Prison Sentence is Not the End

Inmates taking part in training service dogs.

Inmates taking part in training service dogs.

After I was caught and was facing 8-10 years in prison, I can’t think of how many times I thought, “My life is over.” I have to admit, I thought about suicide, running away and just crawling up in a ball and hiding from the reality. As time passed and I got closer to my plea and my sentencing, I started to realize that this didn’t have to be the end of anything. It could be the beginning of something big for me, my wife and my family. That the man I was did not have to dictate the man I could be.

After about 6 weeks of severe depression and paralyzing stress, I went to see a pastor named Ricky Mill from Providence Baptist Church. In addition to telling me that God loved me no matter my crime and that I could be saved through grace and the blood of Jesus, he told me not to miss this opportunity to build a new life. He helped me see that if I use the time I have to get closer to God, to my wife and my family and serving others I can experience the love of Christ, not just today, but for eternity. How crazy is that?!

I used that advice as I entered prison and began my 6-year sentence in Federal prison. I met people who chose to use their time to be better criminals, or to sleep away their incarceration in hopes that it would pass more quickly. I also met inmates who chose to use the time to become better men. They sought out and took classes. They found vocational opportunities to learn a new trade like masonry, electrical, plumbing and solar. Like me, they chose to leave prison better than they entered it.

So, if you’re facing prison time. Now is the time to decide how you are going to do your time. Are you going to sleep it away, try to become  better criminal or will you use the time to become a better person?

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.

Prison Entrepreneurship Documentary – The Last Mile

last mileI ran across this documentary short on a technology incubator program in San Quentin called the Last Mile. It is heartening to see people willing to take a chance and step outside of their comfort zone to provide opportunities for inmates, even those who have done a great deal of harm. The fact is, 90 percent of prisoners will get out one day. Do we want them to learn to be better people or better criminals while they are in prison? I would hope we can agree that we are better off when we provide opportunities for these individuals to learn, to think, to gain insight into the fact that there are options to a life of crime.

Through the Paul Project we are working to help individuals and their families prepare for the prison experience, to encourage them to make the decision early to use the time they must serve to improve their chances of success once they are released. And ultimately, to share God’s amazing grace and his ability to transform lives. We would be honored if you would support us in these efforts. Please help us by donating here – https://www.paulproject.org/you-can-help/. Thank you and God bless.

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.

Something Fishy – Whole Foods Gets Fish, Inmates Get Training

downloadI ran across this piece (article) about Whole Foods buying tilapia from a prison fish farm. The article slams the practice because the farm uses inmate labor who receive $1.50 and hour and have very few “rights”. First, $1.50 an hour in prison is pretty good. During my five years in Federal prison the MOST I received was around 25 cents an hour. There were guys making up to $1.50 an hour working in Unicor or the commissary, but that is the exception.

Second, I think the author of the article is being short-sighted as the inmates are receiving valuable training in a skill they may actually be able to use once they are released. I saw this every day with guys working in the print shop, landscaping and other skill jobs in prison. They may not be getting rich, but they were earning some money for the commissary or to send home and they were also learning a trade to help them succeed on the outside.

So I applaud Whole Foods for supporting the training of these inmates and I encourage the author to step back and consider the full picture before judging. Most inmates enter prison with very little education and few honest skills. Anything that helps them gain valuable training offers them a better chance and a reduced risk of recidivism.

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.

Article – How my life as an entrepreneur shaped my time in prison

entrepreneur magazine

I ran across this Entrepreneur magazine article from a guy who spent a couple of years in prison and used the skills he had learned in starting up a business to help him maximize his time in prison. From my experience, he makes some good points. I especially agree with his point around time management. Effective use of time is a critical part of redeeming your time in prison. Here is the link to the article: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242463

Facing the Fear of Going to Prison

overcoming-fearI’ve been corresponding with the mother of a man facing 25 years to life in prison. Her son is awaiting trial and is feeling a great deal of fear. I can relate. Those 9 months between the time I was investigated and the time I was taken into custody were so stressful for me, my wife and are families. Like this woman’s son, because of my fear I lashed out in anger at those closest to me, especially my wife. But I learned that I can be forgiven for all that I did and that what really matters is what I do with that forgiveness. Do I honor it with my actions? Or do I continue in the behavior that got me here?

Ultimately, it was up to me to use the opportunity of prison to become a man of honor and integrity. And prison really was an opportunity. How many people are able to escape the distractions and desires of the world and have the time to focus on becoming a better person. To study. To grow in body, mind and spirit. While I will never be pleased with what I did to get to prison, I will always be grateful for the time God gave me to focus on His word and serving those around me. As I told someone the other day, prison was a foreign land for me, it was a mission field.

So the fear you are feeling is normal and part of the process. But it does not have to paralyze you. You can move forward and prepare for the years ahead of you. You can use prison for the good. But it is an intentional decision. And the sooner you make that commitment, the easier it will be to follow through on it.