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When Those You Meet on the "Inside" Meet You "Outside"

Prisons do not exist in a vacuum. Forty-five percent of Americans have had a family member spend time in jail or prison. Ninety-five percent of the men, women, and children that we send to prison are coming home one day. They will be our neighbors. They will sit next to us at traffic lights. Their kids will play next to ours at the park, they’ll shop alongside us at the grocery, and they’ll sit in the pews next to us on Sundays.


What happens to our future neighbors while they are incarcerated should be of the utmost importance to Americans – for both the safety of our communities and the future of our nation. In the United States, some one million people are incarcerated every year. One in five black American men born in 2001 is likely to experience incarceration in his lifetime.


Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” I was in a prison earlier today. If you could see what I see on an almost daily basis, you would be shocked.


My job does not scare me. The men and women we work with are not going to hurt us. What scares me is the possibility that the horrors I see become “normalized” with time. The volunteer I worked with today has been visiting prisons on a near-monthly basis for over a year now. Every single ride back, the car is overcome with melancholy, the sights and scenes leave her feeling sullen. When I first started with HeartBound, I felt the same exact way but now, not so much.


I think one off the reasons why I’m not depressed about the state of our prisons anymore is because I know this problem is going to get better. Why? Because Godly men and women are serving in our prisons seven days a week, 365 days a year. In the darkest depths there is truth being exclaimed, souls being redeemed, hearts being won for Christ. People like you, volunteers and donors alike, make that possible. You ARE making a difference.


The work we do at HeartBound Ministries is simple: we reach hearts bound by prison walls. Our Christ-focused curriculums, from beekeeping to quilting to guitar to gardening, are designed to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the fenced-in-flock. Each week our staff and volunteers minister to men, women, and children deemed too dangerous to be free, many of whom have been condemned to lengthy sentences.


Why do we do this work?


Because it’s what we’re Biblically called to do. Hebrews 13:3 states, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoner.”


And as I mentioned, these men and women are coming home. How do we want them to return? Vengeful? Addicted? Traumatized?






I was running on the Belt Line in Atlanta last Friday. I decided to finish my run at the Kroger so I could grab a water. As I bounded up the back stairs, I saw a clear backpack. I paused; I normally only see clear backpacks in prison. A man’s back was turned to me. He was sitting peacefully, looking out on the Belt Line as life moved by. I recognized his profile; he’s one of my former students from prison. I tapped his shoulder and greeted him with a smile. We exchanged a hug. When I asked what he was up to, he said he was “just enjoying the day.”


The afternoon sun shone down on us as we sat and talked. Next to us was the Ford Factory Lofts, rent starts in the upper $1,500’s; across the street was Ponce City Market, where a 575 square foot apartment rents for $1,735 a month. Runners and strollers whizzed by, sounds of people on bikes and roller skates, barking from Pomeranians and Labs. Everything moving and spinning and here we were, sitting on the steps outside Kroger, laughing like old friends. I didn’t feel any sort of apprehension as I sat next to this former convict, a man who had once been deemed a threat to society, a man formerly unworthy of freedom. Why? Because I knew my neighbor. I knew he was kind, that he had made mistakes like me, and that he had hopes and dreams for the future. I knew he had been ministered to by me and by Fred and by countless other volunteers. I knew we had made a difference in his life and that he was prepared for freedom.


Good things are happening inside our prisons. The problem is that often the good is drowned out by the bad. And there’s a whole lot of bad, believe me. But we can do something about it, together.


We ask that you share this message with your friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Maybe your 10 are in your small group. Maybe it’s an old friend from college. There’s someone out there that needs to hear this message. The monumental problem of prison only gets better by spreading the word because most of us will never have the opportunity to go inside a prison’s walls to meet our future neighbors. Journalists aren’t getting the full picture; documentaries are heavily edited and screened. We try and share with you positive stories of hope and change in a thousand words or less. Help us share these stories. You can be part of the change, part of the solution.


Thanks for reading. It makes a difference.


God bless.



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