Quietly Changing Lives
OK Lord here I go! Several weeks ago I found in our garage a box of forms which folks had filled out when we first matched them with an inmate. A lot of effort went into contacting them but 99% of them agreed to write again. Amen! We also found out something we were aware of but had no answer for. The answer was sitting in front of us. We have contacted ten groups that go into prisons to give Bible studies. This took us back forty years to when we started at Soledad Prison. That prison had a different Bible study leader going in every night. All were from different denominations. All taught from their own doctrines. We got them all together and all agreed to stick to what the Bible says. Yvonne started the All Faiths Chapel and all groups taught pure Bible, not church interpretation of the Bible. We also knew the most important work of our ministry was to get men and women inmates to find help with whatever was bothering them. A rule most prisons had was that if you hold a Bible study you go in, give the study and leave. What was needed was “one-to-one” time with each inmate. Each ministry then would not only share God’s word but also deal with whatever problems the inmates had. Now the answer to this problem was to get the inmates names and let us enroll them in the Pen Friend Program. It was a massive undertaking that we believed we could handle. Yvonne and I have always been able to go cell to cell, even to death rows inmates. We have had calls from many chaplains and all agree that “one-to-one” time is much better after Bible study.
There are some pretty bad people in prison who have done terrible things. But our Pen Friend Program makes it so safe. In our thirty years we have never had a problem. Remember - you write the inmate and address the envelope to him or her. You address the envelope with their name, number and address. The return address is your name or Pen name and our address. You seal this and mail it to us. We take the inmate letter out and mail it from Fort Wayne. We have a lot living in our post office box.
Years ago a young man wrote us that he had contacted six churchs and four prison ministries. Someone (neat word) told him about us. We got him a Pen Friend. He is out of prison today, a church elder, a good husband and a supporter of us.
We must take the Gospel seriously. It will increase your capacity to love one of the most vivid parables ever written. It’s lesson is clear. God will judge our reaction to the human needs of others. When we learn that generosity without calculation helps others in the simple things we do, we are helping Jesus. Remember, IT IS finished. We can all work together to make this happen.
Letter writing is a lost art, so we have developed a way to make it easier and even twice as safe. You write letters and e-mail them to us. We send it “snail mail” to your inmate. They write back. We scan it and e-mail it to you. One lady writes fifty inmates. She writes a form letter and then adds a personal touch. This way we can read the inmate’s letter, check for anything that may be wrong, advise you or answer questions you might have and send it to you. This will add expense to us for postage.
This Ministry has doubled in size. I used to be able to preach a couple of times a month and the love offering took care of expenses. Now we run ads which is very expensive. We are praying for 100 people to commit to donating $25.00 a month. A couple of really large donations will make the path much smoother. Your donations are tax deductible. We also provide a financial statement if needed. Please, if you are supporting any other ministry, do not give up that one in exchange for this one. Any extra stamps you can provide will help. A good scanner is needed too.
A place men and women, boys and girls are sent as punishment, not for punishment. Most people in prison are there because they did not have an attorney but rather had a public defender. Very young people go to prison today. The gangs take over. If you have money it is taken. If you tell, you are hurt by them. A young man can be raped by inmates. He tells the officers. They want names. If he gives them, he is killed. He can go into what is called protective custody. Ask your computer! A dog in a pound has more room than an inmate. Those of you writing inmates can look up their prison on the computer. You could ask him or her about prison but the mail room will read their letters. Most are not educated and getting a GED can be important. Again check Inmate GED on your computer.
The inmate writes to us about getting a Pen Friend and we send him or her an application. When that is returned, it goes to the bottom of a pile. When you contact us, your name goes to the bottom of another pile. The match is made. Now one problem we often have is that the “free” person gets the information but does not write or return the information to us. Or they write one letter but get no answer. The inmate may not have a stamp or a pen and paper. If this happens, please contact us and we will see what is wrong or may rematch you. Also, you may continue to write after the inmate is released because - by then - you should be friends. If the prison allows stamps send them in an envelope. The glue on stamps is a good way to send drugs. Books must be soft back from a vendor.
Keep a record of things you write about. The inmate will keep your letter. Do not pry for information. Let the Holy spirit guide you. They may not have a radio or TV,. so ask questions about important current events. Send interesting articles. Humor is needed so try not to be too serious. After a bit talk about your family and ask about their family. Most important, do not make a promise you can not keep. If they attempt to get too familiar say “No.” If they ask for money once in awhile that’s ok. The big one, if you are not sure, contact us after you have written awhile and ask about Bible studies. Here is an idea if they ask for stamps. One couple bought prestamped envelopes and addressed them to themselves. This way they can not be used for barter. IF NOT SURE OR IF UNCOMFORTABLE ASK US.
Where you will not find love. There is only hate and fear. It’s a place where you go to bed even if you’re not tired. You pull the blankets over your head but you are not cold. It is a place where you can trust no one. You pay a lot of taxes but we get little medical care, terrible food, locked in a cell 24/7 and often shower once or maybe twice a week. My cell, two bunks fit to a wall, a toilet and sink, and the third inmate sleeps on the floor. Some prisons have chapels that have been turned into barracks. A family member dies but you can’t go to the the funeral. Money is sent in and the prison takes part of it. Most prisons have a wing for old inmates who get little care, stink and pray to die. Prison is a place.
Often men write to themselves to hear their name called. A simple letter can lighten up a dark cell. Go into your bathroom at night, turn off the lights and light a match. That light is what this ministry gives. If your church has a prison ministry have the leader contact us. If your church does not one, have the pastor have contact us. Please.
About 10 years ago a couple of Churches had a garage sale for our ministry. The results were amazing. Quality used Bibles also. If they have gathered dust wipe them off, read them and send them. Often we have to send a post card to an inmate telling them to be patient, his or her Pen Friend is coming. Might that pen friend be YOU? The events of this world today are really bad. God sees it all and HE wants his people home. Could it be that the next knees to bend will be an inmate? Remember Jesus stopped dying to save a convict.
God has blessed us for many years and we know at 83 and 76 only God Knows. But if Jesus tarries the future of this ministry is secure. Both by a board and partners.
Reprinted from our November, 2007 newsletter.
If ever asked to do anything in the name of the Lord, say “I’ll be happy to.” In the middle seventies, working as a full time (eleven years) Chaplain at Soledad, we were faced with many challenges.
The biggest “My First Sermon,” Chaplain Read got sick and asked me to preach at two of Soledad’s chapels. I was a grammar school dropout with no training at all. When I say “Trust in the Lord,” HE preached through me. I’d stayed up almost the whole night putting a sermon together.
Word spread through the prison, and when it came time, both chapels were wall-to-wall men. I started to read my sermon, but Jesus took over. Ever since, I have spent hours getting sermons together with lots of notes and “cheat sheets.” But He leads me. I have now preached in over 400 different churches and a whole lot of prisons. My wife is always there. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could preach at your church.
Don Hawkins was a very bad man, and he wrote to me. His letter was so bad but honest. I threw it away. Yvonne got it and sent him a letter and an application. He became a Pen Friend. He held a large Bible study with inmates on McAlister’s Death Row. The Lord used him to change many inmates. He deserved to die even though we do not believe the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. We are sure we will see him in heaven.THANK YOU JESUS
I tried for months to get a pen pal but failed. Another inmate sent me your way and I got a Pen Friend. This couple brought me to the foot of the cross. Me and later my family became Christians. I have been out many years and now go back in with my friend Jesus.I AM HAPPY TODAY
Jesus took my son’s sins away. When Jerry went to prison I tried to get ministries and churches to help but with no response. I was driving to visit him and listened to you two on VOICE OF PROPHECY on the radio. I later contacted you and you got my son involved. Not only is he a member again of this family but a member of the family of God.I’M GOING TO BURY YOU
This is the name of a book written by Gene Neill. We had him at Soledad and he turned the place upside down. Given 50 years, the Lord went to work. You can get his book on the internet. We also recommend The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. Maybe Amazon?THREE ABN
I was really trying to get a prison ministry started. I had the burden but not the experience. I then watched Someone Cares on Three ABN. I got a copy of their video interview and showed it. This did the trick. You might contact Three ABN for a copy of that video and the two others. Also Voice Of Prophecy for their cassettes, years of them. If you visit the website www.someonecares.org and go to archived newsletters.
Wishing you a Blessed Thanksgiving