When I walked into the Big Spring Federal Prison Camp 25 years ago next month, I had no idea that God was going to change everything about my life. I had no burden for inmates…I was only going to teach a Bible class in prison because I could not get out of it. For six years I drove 120 miles round trip every Friday night for that class. The last two years of the six we drove back over on Saturday afternoon after visitation to work with the families. It was during this time that the prison system began to expand at a rapid pace. When we started into the prison in Big Spring, it was the only prison west of Fort Worth in the entire state (now we have about 40.) Men with vision like Don Gibson and Emmett Solomon were busy putting people and programs in place to meet the spiritual need of the largest prison system in the free world. Linda and I were the greenest of all the volunteers. Thank God the good ones took us under their wing and taught us. Chaplains taught us, other ministries taught us, families with needs taught us. We traveled the west side of the state from Dalhart to below Houston. We met some of the greatest people in the world. We still communicate with guys who were in our first Bible classes in Big Spring in 1985-1991. We stay in touch with the counselor who opened the door for prison ministry, then pushed us through it, in 1985. We have become close friends with many of the families and watched them grow in the Lord. Others have gone back to the world, repeat the same mistakes and suffer the same heartaches. We have met some great chaplains, men who obviously were called by God to do what they were doing, men who sacrificed this world’s goods to minister unto the “off scouring” of the world. We found some helpful ministries that were willing to share what they had learned. They were not afraid we would rob them of their donors or of their material. They were not jealous or selfish. They taught us that you could not give enough. They taught us to depend upon God, not a mailing list of donors or money raising letters. For 25 years God has supplied our needs without fund raisers, pleas for money or merchandising the gospel.
We do not apologize for being Bible based. If anything, we may need to apologize for not being more Bible based. We want to never compromise the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our bottom line has not been the amount of money we were receiving or how well we were received by inmates and prison officials. Our litmus test was (and is) “Are people being saved?” Over the years our ministry slowly changed from “in prison” seminars to aftercare.
The term “aftercare” is not really good, but we start at the jail doing chaplaincy work. We do weekly classes in drug and alcohol treatment centers. We do weekly classes for those coming out of SAFP and IPTC. We have weekly classes at the parole office. Every week we sponsor what we call the REC (Re-Entry Chapel) Room. It is a meeting that emphasizes the spiritual, and also practical side of being on parole or probation. We attempt to help with job searches, additional vocational training, eye sight and dental problems and a bicycle program for those who are not allowed to drive or cannot afford a car. We have a REC Room Assistance Fund to help people. We do not pass a plate, but we have a box for anyone who wants to give. None of the money is used for refreshments; it is used to help people. We offer good gospel music, refreshments and a Bible message. We have had to move twice into bigger buildings. God has blessed us with good crowds. We are seeing ex-inmates and their families getting into local churches and becoming successful citizens.
We want to see these men and women grow as Jesus grew: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52
What we have learned over the years that sobriety without salvation is worthless. Success in society without salvation is useless. Anything we can do to help the criminal justice situation in our city, county, state and nation, will no lasting effect unless accompanied by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are confronted by all the “do-gooders” on both sides of the criminal justice issue. There are those who swear that more “treatment” will cause improve the crime rate. I am sure it won’t hurt it, but having dealt with individuals who have been in SAFP twice, IPTC once and are sitting in a relapse facility today, I am not seeing more improvement. You can change the laws and get the same results. Today, amounts of a controlled substance that used to bring a long prison sentence are now a misdemeanor and cannot bring a prison sentence at all. Did any of these things improve the individual? As everyone knows the boom in prison population in America is commensurate with illegal drug traffic. Harsh and loner sentences were going to solve this, but they didn’t. Our drug and alcohol laws are totally inequitable. They are much more strict for the person who takes drugs than one who drinks, yet the deaths involving drinking far exceed the those caused by drug users. I am not advocating one or the other, but I am advocating some equality. We hear the cries of those who say “You cannot legalize morals“ yet no one has opted to do away with penalties for thefts, murder, child abuse, etc.
When we speak of crime rates going down, are we saying that less crime is being committed or the laws have changed so that some things are not a crime anymore? As someone once said, “Figures don’t lie, but all liars figure!” We are back to the salvation question; “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36 If I help a person stay out of prison and help him to not go back, yet do not help him get to heaven, I am that person’s worst enemy.
Keep Looking Up!