Quietly Changing Lives
This was a motto I adopted as a child. My early years were not happy, and I was in and out of trouble. I ran away for home at the age of thirteen and kept running until age forty. I was in and out of juvenile home, then jail, and finally put in prison. I started smoking, doing drugs, and drinking alcohol. Crime pays! It got me into the “jet-set” and fast track of life.
A red stop light changed my life. I was driving on my way home when the light turned red, so I turned right and drove to my favorite bar. In the restaurant part of the bar were three women and a little boy. I made the comment, “Kids don’t belong in bars” loud enough for them to hear. A very attractive lady came up to me and said, “Sir, no one belongs in a bar! Why? Because Jesus would not be here.” I had met my match.
Yvonne and I dated for a long time and my life style changed little. I was an alcoholic and still doing drugs. Yvonne had been raised in a Christian home (her parents Clyde and Vera Groomer), and said she would not stay with me unless I changed. She took me to meet Euell Atchley, a pastor. After a three hour period of hearing about Jesus I accepted Christ. I quit all my vises and to this day have had no withdrawal. Yvonne and I got married and then my life really changed.
Never being in Church before, the first time was quite a shock for someone raised the way I was, and I did not fit in. A pastor invited me to a luncheon with a guest speaker who was a prison volunteer, and my life again changed. I had spent months studying the Bible and everything else I could read, and Yvonne taught me along the way. After the luncheon, I called Soledad Prison and talked to the Chaplain about teaching Bible there. I started that Friday night, but Yvonne did not join me.
The inmates asked a lot of questions, so I began the rule that if I did not have the answer I would bring it back to them next time. At that time I had a great job making a lot of money, but I quit my job and went into full time Ministry. Yvonne said, “How are we going to pay our bills?” My answer was, “God will take care of them.” We have been a non profit Ministry for over thirty-five years now.
Yvonne liked to say, “If they do the crime they should do the time.” That was her attitude, and she did not go into the prison with me, until one rainy day when I finally talked her into going. One inmate was a black preacher, and he led the song service while Yvonne played the piano. We had a big crowd and God blessed our service. It was raining hard when we left. Getting into our car I turned on the headlights, and there in the rain stood all the inmates waving goodbye. Yvonne joined me daily in prison after that.
After a year of working five or six days a week at Soledad as volunteers, we were both offered full time Chaplain positions. Yvonne had on her yard nine hundred inmates, and there was a small Chapel that was shared by all. I worked with the State Chaplain in the big prison. Through this on-the-job training and lots of studywe were both ordained.
There is Ministry in Prison, which is different than Prison Ministry. The latter has folks coming in and holding Bible studies, preaching and some visitation. Where Yvonne ministered there were seven groups, all teaching different doctrine. We got all the volunteers together and the All Faiths Chapel wasborn. All studies dealt with the whole Bible and not a particular doctrine. We saw the great needs of the prisoners, and started the Dress Out Program, providing free clothes to inmates when released. Yvonnestarted a Remedial Reading Program using the Bible. We also started a program for correctional officers.
The Warden of Soledad transferred to San Quentin and called us to see if we could help out there, so we devoted two days a week ministering at that prison. We did counseling in the Chapel and ministering in the famous “C” section, which was five tiers high with fifty cells to a tier. The hardest of the hard core were housed there. The term “God Squad” was born there. When we entered the cell block, inmates would call out, “The God Squad is here! Get something on!”
We also had a Cell Ministry on Death Row. We both carried large cases with small Bibles, paper, cards and pencils, which we passed out. Also at both prisons we were given the job of giving death notices to the inmates. We went through two riots there and one at Soledad. With my experience with gangs on the street it was easy to communicate with the gang members.
We drove one hundred miles each way when we worked at San Quentin. One morning, after being there for more than a year, we were called to the upper yard, where all black gang members were gathered. The reason they had called us there was to make us “honorary blacks!” They told us the reason was because we were there with Jesus for them.
God next called us to Ministry in Kentucky, otherwise we might still be there in San Quentin. We also helped open Avenal Prison and helped a new Chaplain at Corcoran. We met a lot of neat men at both the California prisons. It was while we were at San Quentin that we started the Pen Friend Program, which has helped thousands of inmates and quite a few church members. The Program remains risk-free, since the only mailing address the inmate sees is ours, and all letters come through us. If you’re not already involved, would you care to give it a try?
Prison is split with regards to church or religious background - most inmates have had little or none, some a bit more. We developed Paper Sunshine as a Friendship Ministry hoping to lead inmates to Jesus. We ask our writers to not let their doctrine be a barrier, but a bridge to Jesus. We have had a million inmates complete some sort of Bible study, mostly through Voice Of Prophecy.
If you decide to write to one or fifty inmates, the Program works this way: Your name goes into a pile. The inmate’s request, which has a detailed application and a letter of introduction, go into another pile. The pen friends are matched by whoever’s on the top of each pile. If a male inmate requests a female pen friend, we inform them we are not a dating or matrimonial service. Sure they try sometimes and we sometimes miss it. But if you have a problem we will take care of it. In over thirty years we have never had a major problem. We even have children writing with parents, helping to lead inmates to Christ.
Years ago I received a letter from an inmate, and it was rough and raw. I threw it in the waste basket, but Yvonne pulled it out. He was raised like I had been, had done things I had done. He was on Death Row, and I was not even close to it. His name was also Don, and I wrote to him for quite awhile and enrolled him in several Bible studies. I then got him a new Pen Friend and Jesus took over. Don became the preacher on Death Row, leading many to Jesus. I spent time in prayer with him before his execution and will look forward to seeing him in Heaven.
A woman named Mary has written to over one hundred inmates through us for the past twenty five years, and all have taken Bible studies and most have accepted Christ. If she was not comfortable with any of them, she would send their information back to us. Sad to say, many people have tried this Program, not liked it, and quit without the courtesy of returning the information so someone else could try.
Paper Sunshine is Crime Prevention. Yvonne will tell you how this all started with one inmate. I will finish with a man who was terrible.
I walked into a cell block and headed toward the first row of cells. I could smell hate, garbage and human waste. The first cell I arrived at was a mess and had a man with his back to me, hair all the way down his back. He turned and charged me, and I don’t know what he would have done had the cell doors not been there. Several guards came over and asked if I needed help, but I told them no. The next time we entered that cell block the same thing happened. Then Yvonne joined me, and we passed by his cell. About a year later we passed his cell as usual, but a guard came after us and said the man wanted to see us. I told Yvonne to stay well behind me. The man spoke to us, saying, “I have money and I want to buy whatever you are selling. I’ve seen men in here change, and some even left for better parts of the prison. But what do you sell?” I was stuck. Yvonne pushed me back and moved around me, while all the guards moved closer with their rifles. Yvonne told him we were selling nothing, but were giving away freedom and peace through Jesus. She talked for about thirty minutes. Then a little bitty tear fell down his face. “I also want Jesus!” he said. We asked him if he would pray with us, and we put our hands through the bars and took hold of his. All the rifles were cocked. Yvonne started the prayer, and then the man prayed a prayer I’m sure Jesus had never heard before. He became a changed man, and his life changed. He was moved into general population and three years ago he earned a parole. The worst of the worst become a child of the King. Nothing is impossible for God!
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Ministry on our web site
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call at 260-387-7423.