Prisoners may get Pell grants for college

safb_classroomWhen I entered prison I sought to use the time to improve myself in body, mind and spirit. I spent a great deal of time and energy getting in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. I lost about 50 pounds, read thousands of books and dug deeper into the Bible and my relationship with Christ. I worked on becoming a better man, husband and member of society.  I do believe that those entering prison must make a choice, do they become a better person or a better criminal? One way to ensure they choose the former is to offer more opportunities to get an education beyond a GED. This article addresses the issue of offering Pell grants to prisoners.

I was blessed in that I was able to take advantage of an entrepreneurship certification  program offered by Kent State University while I was at FCI Elkton. I saw the men who took that course gain confidence in their ability to be more than a criminal. That they could actually build something for themselves, their children and the community.

I’ve always been fairly conservative politically. But my time in prison has helped me see that we must open doors, not close them. That we must take a few risks in order to create an atmosphere of hope and promise for the least of these. Of course there will be a few who abuse this privilege, but that is the case in the “free” world at universities across the country. This should not stop us.

 

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.

Whitey Bulger: “My life was wasted…”

Whitey-Bulger_Most-Wanted_HD_768x432-16x9Even the most hardened criminals can have moments of insight, regret and remorse. There weren’t many harder criminals than mobster Whitey Bulger. He killed many men and lived a life of crime for decades. In this article from the Washington Post, Whitey responds to a letter from some teen girls who wrote him as part of a school project. In his response to their letter he candidly admits he wasted his life and spent if foolishly. I would guess this would be the honest response from many of us who spent time in prison for our actions. I know it my case I spent many days and nights in regret and remorse for all of those I harmed by my selfishness.

As you prepare for prison I strongly suggest righting as many wrongs as possible. To repent and turn away from your old behavior. For me, I truly began to understand that repentance means not just apologizing for my actions, but also turning away from them toward a new life. It was amazing how at peace I was once I asked for forgiveness and began to walk a new path. It didn’t minimize the pain I caused, but it helped me understand that I could move forward and use my time in prison to glorify God and to honor my wife and others with my actions. I hope you will do the same.

 

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.

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.

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!!

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.

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.