A question was presented to me several months ago: “What if you were defined by your worst mistake?”
My biggest mistake is a very long and boring story that I’ll spare you from. Yet I can’t help cringing at the thought of people knowing me by the intimate details of my failure. Today, that’s not who I am.
The Lord didn’t forgive me because I was good enough for His mercy, but He gave it to me anyway. Shouldn’t we, forgiven sinners, have mercy on the men and women behind bars?
If you’ve never gone to prison before, you might be shocked by what you’d find. I’ve seen the TV shows, and read a few articles on what it’s “really like.” While I suspected there was some small nugget of accuracy somewhere between Arrested Development and Law & Order, I was shamefully surprised to meet people who are more like me than I ever would have thought.
Meeting Kyle (name has been changed to respect privacy) shattered my internal narrative. Even though he was serving time for breaking the law, he hadn’t stopped being a person: having a family, a childhood, hopes, dreams, failures, and a future.
I did so little to participate as a volunteer in prison, yet I was the one blessed. God reminded me that incarcerated people are still people.
“…for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” –1 Samuel 16:7b (NASB)
Through the truth of the gospel, and the impact from PEP, incarcerated individuals can go on to live a life outside of prison like they never did before.
Prison Entrepreneurship Program, or PEP, has changed the lives of so many inmates, as well as having a positive impact on their families and their communities. PEP applicants are interviewed and vetted in a screening process with a smaller acceptance rate than many prestigious universities.
Applicants start out with a three-month character development course. They read through The Quest for Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis. One of the volunteer teachers said that typically the inmates don’t want to read the book, and they say they don’t need any character training. But week after week, chapter by chapter, lights seem to turn on in their heads as they realize, “That’s me, I need this.” By the time they’ve finished the book, it’s like a class of completely different people.
The next several months are filled with business classes and training sessions, all leading up to their business plan competition and graduation.
Last week was the final opportunity for volunteers to meet with the current PEP class for mock interviews. PEP wants to prepare graduates to find a job upon release and to face the future head-on.
I’ve been to many interviews, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard statements before like “Prison ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.” “God got my attention; I’m not who I was back then.”
PEP graduates have a 7% re-incarceration rate, compared to roughly 50% nationwide. 100% of PEP graduates are employed or self-employed within 90 days of release.
I encourage you to check out their website at www.pep.org or look into helping a prison ministry in your area. God has given me more second chances than I deserved. And in thankfulness, I’m happy to serve those men and women looking for a second chance at life.