It's May 30, 2018, and William Jones is going home.
"I found out 15 days ago," he says. His prison chaplain brought him the news. "I hugged him, and we cried together. Two big, grown men standing there crying together. It brought to my mind, now, that I am actually ready to go out there and show my son how to be a man."
William's parents, wife, and family wait for him outside the prison walls of the Carol S. Vance unit in Texas. "The fact that I'm not there to . . . help them—it really lets me know how selfish I had been in my ways," William muses. "The opportunity to get back out there—to get [the] second chance that God has given me . . . man! I'm without words. Speechless."
'Welcome to Carol Vance’
On December 2, 2015, at 5:20 a.m., William arrived at Carol Vance from one of Texas' transfer facilities. He remembers walking through the prison gate and being greeted with the words, "God bless you, and welcome to Carol Vance."
"I saw that [the prisoners] were receiving something real," William explains. "It was [a hope] that I had been needing. … There was nothing fake about what was happening in these guys' lives."
Hungry for the hope he saw in his fellow prisoners, William dove into the classes and programs offered by Prison Fellowship®. The following April, he enrolled in the Prison Fellowship Academy™.
Each year in the United States, more than 600,000 men and women like William are released from prison. Of those 600,000, two out of three will be rearrested within just a few years. The Academy is Prison Fellowship's response to this problem.
Located in select prisons across the country, the Prison Fellowship Academy takes incarcerated men and women through a holistic life transformation. Participants are guided by Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers to lead lives of purpose and productivity, both inside and outside of prison.
The atmosphere is different from what you would expect behind bars. "From orientation on, you could see different guys coming from different areas of life," William explains. "We bonded as a family."
Not in vain
In the Academy, staff and prisoners pour into each other's lives. For many prisoners, having someone they can depend on and trust is powerful because they may have never experienced it. "We didn't have people we could look to [before]," William explains. "There [are] more guys in this [Academy] that are freer inside than I've ever witnessed on the outside of these gates. The time I've spent here has not been in vain."
In the Academy, William grew stronger in his relationship with his family, his friends, and with God. "Now [God] is first. It's because of him I stand before you today as a man about to be released," he says. "I'm just blessed, man."
There is a giddiness about William. He's itching to go—to take off his prison uniform and put on fresh new clothes, to hug his wife and family, to live a full life on the outside. "I appreciate things today better than I've ever appreciated them before," he explains. "I love my wife like I've never loved her before because I know what real love is now."
William is full of joy as his release approaches. He doesn't hold back his excitement as he says, "I'm about to get out of prison. I've had these white clothes on for three and a half years! I'm about to get out of these clothes! ... I'm about to hug my wife and not to be told that it's time to stop. [It's] not a two-hour visit. … It's time! This is my season! God told me this would happen if I trusted him, and I trust him. I'm going home!"
This post originally appeared on Prison Fellowship’s site.