by Christy Hoagland
In the few short years of being involved in prison ministry we have seen generations of families incarcerated. At one institution we had the grandfather, father, and son all in one service. Right now, a young man in one of our weekly services has been in and out of prison (mostly in) since he was 17 years old and both of his parents are currently doing time in the Department of Corrections. Most of these offenders don’t know any other way to live.
A couple of years ago, “Willy”, brought his friend, “Stan” to the chapel on a Friday night. Willy was excited about coming to church each week and tried to save a seat for his friend. Stan would come pretty regularly but kept to himself and was not very talkative. Over time, Stan began to open up but then found himself in some trouble and was sent to Administrative Segregation (aka “the hole”) for several long months. We tried to visit him but they weren’t allowing him to have visitors and he was later transferred to another prison.
More time passed and we were doing one of our quarterly services in another institution and in walks Stan, smiling as he came into the chapel because he saw a familiar face, faces 🙂 We were overjoyed to see him and talk to him for a few minutes before the service started. He said he thought he would be transferred again but didn’t know when or where.
Fast forward a few more months on a Friday night and in waltzes Stan. We are thankful he’s back for weekly services instead of every three months. He begins attending regularly again and talks to us more and more each week. One night I remember him telling us how he is involved with some “people” and he has to keep his “status” with them. He was trying to play both sides…church and thug life. But Stan keeps coming to church and God continues working on his heart.
A few Fridays later, Stan gave his life to Jesus and things began to change! He was overflowing with joy! He was smiling from ear to ear every single time we saw him. Now, Stan was bringing men with him to the chapel, he was talking to them about Jesus! Stan has cousins in this same institution, he brought them to the chapel and both of them received new life in Christ and all three of them were baptized shortly later at an amazing prison baptism service! As Stan was getting ready to be baptized he said “I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out that I was on the wrong side!” On the night of the baptism we were visiting with the three of them afterwards and Stan was talking about how they thought they had to go to prison to become men, their fathers, grandfathers, and uncles had all been in prison. These three men are the cycle breakers in their families!
Just last Friday, they brought another friend with them that came to see them be baptized. This man told me he came back because of the love and care Johnny Allen showed him at the baptism service. He has been in prison for the last 12 years and had never been to the chapel… he received Jesus as his Lord and Savior through many tears last Friday night. Hallelujah! It seems we are on the cusp of something great and we have a front row seat.
God is on the move inside the razor wire!