By / Apr 30

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss Biden’s joint address to congress, India and the coronavirus tsunami, no need for masks outdoors, COVID-19 vaccine is safe for pregnant women, and the 2021 NFL draft. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Seth Woodley with “How literature teaches us about leadership: Cultivating virtue reading,” Josh Wester, Jordan Wootten, and Brent McCracken with “Why we desperately need wisdom in this age of information,” and Ericka Anderson with “Why a second chance for incarcerated men is important.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Biden promotes sweeping agenda in speech
  2. FDA moves to ban menthol cigarettes
  3. Fact Sheet: The American Families Plan
  4. India’s COVID-19 death toll tops 200,000
  5. CDC: If You’re Vaccinated, You Don’t Need To Mask Outdoors
  6. Coronavirus cases are finally falling
  7. Preliminary Findings of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Women
  8. The NFL draft is this week
  9. Bill Belechick’s WFH draft

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  • Brave by Faith: In this realistic yet positive book, renowned Bible teacher Alistair Begg examines the first seven chapters of Daniel to show us how to live bravely, confidently, and obediently in an increasingly secular society. | Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com
  • Every person has dignity and potential. But did you know that nearly 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record? To learn more and sign up for the virtual Second Chance month visit prisonfellowship.org/secondchances.
By / Apr 29

One of the most COVID-effected demographics is rarely mentioned: Prisoners. Already a population incredibly vulnerable to substance abuse, depression and loneliness, the toll for safety was high — and didn’t ultimately protect them very well. One in 5 have tested positive for the virus, and at least 2,700 have died. The New York Times reported triple the rate of COVID-19 infections from that of the general population inside American prisons. 

It’s past time to recognize the humanity of this population of more than 2 million image-bearers. April is “Second Chance Month,” an effort by Prison Fellowship to spotlight criminal justice reform and programming to help prisoners reenter society. Because there is no structure in place for men and women leaving prison, many walk out the door with nothing but the clothes on their back. Some don’t even have an I.D. Often without money or housing, the allure back to substance abuse or criminal lifestyle is high because it is one of few options. 

Things may be even harder now. 

On top of the contagion, in 2020 prisoners abruptly lost access to visitors and in-person programming by nonprofits and ministries aiming to bring light, life, and restoration. As the rest of the world mourned in-person gatherings, prisoners without any access to the outside world may have grieved it the most. 

Ninety-five percent of prisoners eventually reenter society, and the government offers no assistance upon reentry. The results are devastating. Two of 3 former inmates will be back behind bars within three years, furthering a toxic cycle of criminality that ultimately bleeds into the next generation. The children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to be later incarcerated themselves. 

Men of Valor 

But God has called a group of people to minister specifically to this group. In 1976, after serving a short sentence in prison, Chuck Colson started Prison Fellowship, which spawned local prison ministries across the country, like Tennessee’s Men of Valor. These organizations are bringing God’s love, hope, and tangible resources to a population the rest of the world too easily hidden and forgotten. 

COVID-19 made programming harder, but Men of Valor was able to pivot and see God moving in incredible ways that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. “It’s kind of cracked the nut on getting some virtual programming into prisons,” said Program Director Curt Campbell over the phone. “We also got permission to show a faith-based variety show, including testimonies, sermons, and motivational videos.” 

Campbell said most prisons have a closed circuit TV channel that plays inside cells, where their show broadcasts. Thus, men who may never have attended a chapel service or Bible class will hear the gospel when they never would have before. 

Beyond adapting to COVID-19 restrictions, Men of Valor has kept a strong focus on their core initiative, a 1-year reentry mentoring and discipling program for 93 men at a time. After learning about and participating with Men of Valor while in prison, men can apply for the “After Care and Re-Entry” program, which boasts incredible results: Only 10% of those who complete the program go back to prison, compared to 66% of those who don’t. 

Incredibly, COVID-19 affected this program “more positively than negatively,” said Campbell. Because they received funding through the CARES Act (enacted to provide swift economic relief for those affected by COVID-19), Men of Valor was able to expand their programming capabilities to include virtual and socially-distanced learning spaces.They were able to keep the program near capacity, and most men were able to continue working. 

Being accepted into the program can be a huge relief. Once released from prison, accepted participants receive a home, food, clothing, transportation, and help securing valid I.D. and part-time employment. Beyond those basic needs, spiritual needs take priority through mentoring, discipleship, anger management, accountability, personal counseling, and more. 

Because of this program, men like Joshua Higdon say they are “thankful” for their time in prison. After growing up and joining a hate group gang at a young age, Higdon ultimately developed a drug addiction and found himself in prison. “The men that God moved into my life,” he said via video, ”showed me his grace, showed me his mercy and showed me his love.” 

Wearing a t-shirt inscribed with “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” atop a spate of tattoos, Higdon described how a bi-racial friendship inside of prison changed his views on race and led him to the post-incarceration Men of Valor program. 

At a time when many Christians are redefining their view of “pro-life” to include care and compassion for the most vulnerable citizens, it’s appropriate to view post-incarcerated men as such. They have broken the law and made mistakes, but have little chance to rehabilitate and start again without authentic love, financial support, and spiritual guidance to help them get there. They can’t do this on their own, and organizations like Men of Valor and Prison Fellowship are stepping up to ensure they don’t have to. 

By / Apr 21

Jeff Pickering welcomes back Heather Rice-Minus of Prison Fellowship to talk about the church, criminal justice reform, and why Christians value second chances. This episode comes as we are engaged in Second Chance Month, a nationwide effort each April to raise awareness about barriers to reentry and unlock brighter futures for people with a criminal record.

This conversation was recorded on Friday, April 16, the week before the verdict was announced in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. 

Guest Biography

Heather Rice-Minus serves as Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Church Mobilization at Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. She is a powerful, knowledgeable voice articulating the case for restorative criminal justice solutions. She is also the co-author of Outrageous Justice, a Bible study curriculum and book. A native of Virginia, Rice-Minus resides in Washington, D.C., with her husband and daughter, and they welcomed a second child as foster parents in 2020.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Apr 6

Imagine receiving a job offer. Your resume demonstrates the right qualifications. You feel good about the interview. It’s all coming together—until one thing makes the opportunity fall apart.

A college graduate, Angela once applied to work at a title company in Virginia. She had the relevant skills, prior work experience, and a bachelor’s degree from The Pennsylvania State University. But she also had a criminal record from past DUIs. Initially, the company offered Angela the job. After processing the background check, the company rescinded the offer.

Angela’s challenge belongs to a long list of legal barriers that people with a criminal record face. Known as collateral consequences, these hindrances affect nearly every facet of life, from employment and education, to housing and voting. The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences Conviction documents more than 44,000 legal collateral consequences that exist today—barriers that persist long after a person has paid their debt to society. Nearly 80% of these restrictions are permanent, even after a person is rehabilitated and reintegrated in society.

A shadow of the past 

Prison Fellowship® believes that everyone should have an opportunity to contribute to society. But for many like Angela, a simple background check can make or break a chance at gainful employment. Many people have trouble finding a place to rent because of their past. Even reinstating a driver’s license is a costly and complicated process. Angela knows this firsthand.

Soon, one hindrance leads to another: Without gainful employment, how will I support myself?

And these are just a few examples. Occupational licensing laws limit opportunities for many men and women with a criminal record to find a better employment path. Some licensing restrictions exist to promote public safety or set returning citizens up for success (e.g., someone with a fraud conviction should not work in finances right away).

However, most of these laws do little for public safety and deprive the community of good workers in necessary trades. In the U.S., 1 in 5 people need a license for their work—from electricians to cosmetologists to lawyers—but, because of a criminal record, are banned from jobs that they are otherwise qualified to do.

Other collateral consequences deny access to student loans, contracting, and other forms of participation in civic life. Criminal records can weigh into prospective students’ college applications, even though access to education can reduce a person’s likelihood of returning to crime.

Breaking down barriers

Americans love the idea that hard work brings success. That if we just put in the effort, we can achieve our goals. For the 70 million Americans with a criminal record, overwhelming obstacles stand in the way of a full, productive future. These hindrances often have no bearing on securing community safety or public good. Too often, stigmas and legal restrictions prolong punishment, despite the person having paid their debt to society and being ready to make good on a second chance.

Christians ought to celebrate redemption and allow people to contribute to society at their highest potential. Prison Fellowship is committed to advancing justice that restores and upholds the God-given value of all persons. We support restrictions to personal liberty only if they demonstrate a substantial link to protecting public safety.

People can flourish when needless barriers are eliminated. Studies even show that men and women with a criminal record could contribute some $78 billion more to the economy if more restrictions were lifted. People with criminal records have proven to be loyal, hardworking employees, motivated to make the most of their fresh start. And opportunities to start over feel like a gift to people who seek to live out their second chance.

“People want someone to recognize that they’re worth a second chance,” says Angela.

Today, Angela serves as the events and operations manager for Prison Fellowship’s advocacy team. She feels fortunate to use her many skill sets in the workplace—an opportunity many people with a criminal record still do not have.

Second chances create cycles of renewal and bright futures. And when people have a chance to redeem their futures, we all win.

Originally appeared on Prison Fellowship’s site

By / Feb 10

Jon Kelly was a troubled teen growing up with a single mother in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood. Multiple schools couldn’t keep him out of trouble. He dropped out of school by ninth grade.

“I was always high every day … always in fights, always getting shot at or shooting at somebody,” Jon says. “I for sure did not think I would make it past 16.”

Jon remembers the day he was arrested. He had just turned 19 two months before. He was taken to jail for his role in a murder.

A couple officers in the jail would talk to him from time to time. That first week, Jon was so bored that he asked if either of them could bring him something to read. The officers handed him a copy of the New Testament. On the cover were the words, “There’s hope for you. Jesus cares.”

“I read God’s Word for the first time,” Jon says, “and I haven’t been the same since.”

A change of heart

Jon had not yet gone to court when he surrendered his life to Jesus. His lawyer didn’t believe he was serious about his newfound faith, dismissing it as “jailhouse religion.” Even so, Jon knew what he had to do.

“Part of being a Christian is repenting and taking ownership of your sins,” Jon told his lawyer. “I would like to plead guilty.”

Jon pled guilty to third-degree murder, a crime that usually carries a sentence of 20–40 years in prison. Standing in court before the victim’s family, Jon asked for forgiveness. Then he apologized to the judge
for wasting the court’s time and taxpayers’ money. Jon also said that he would respect his sentence—no matter what it was.

“It didn’t matter that [the victim] was supposedly a drug dealer,” Jon explains. “At the end of the day, he was a young man made in the image of God who didn’t deserve to die.”

Miraculously, the judge sentenced Jon to 6–15 years in prison, with five years of probation.

A fresh start

In prison, he made the most of his time by taking classes and earning his GED. When Jon was released on parole, he stepped out into a world that is overwhelming for many former prisoners. He needed a place to live, a job, and a community of friends who would support him.

So Jon moved back in with his mother, who was living in a safer neighborhood. He found a local church, where he met a new circle of friends who welcomed him in and cared for him. He even managed to find
a job as a painter his first week out.

Today, Jon serves as the pastor of Chicago West Bible Church, a church he helped start. He’s married and has two children. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I praise God for that,” Jon says.

But it’s also been a tough one. Although he completed his sentence and is now a valuable contributor in his community, Jon’s criminal record follows him. With his record comes the legal restrictions on housing, employment, education, and more, called collateral consequences, that limit his opportunities to thrive. This is why Jon is passionate about second chances, and why he devotes some of his time to working with Prison Fellowship to mobilize churches to restore those impacted by crime and incarceration through direct ministry and advocacy.

Celebrating second chances

As part of that work, he and his church host a Second Chance Sunday every April—a special service designed to raise awareness about the stigma and barriers people with a criminal record face and inspire the church to be a place of welcome. This effort is part of Second Chance® Month, the
nationwide campaign led by Prison Fellowship to raise awareness about the barriers faced by men and women with a criminal record. Jon explains what the service is like:

I preach a message that’s related to this topic and this issue. We highlight different second chance ministries, organizations, and resources in our city and around the country that people in our church can get connected to. We allow our congregation to share their stories about how second chances impact them or their loved ones.

Jon says his church hosts this special service because “We believe that every man and woman, every individual, regardless of if they have a criminal record or not, has been created in God’s image and is worthy of dignity and respect and opportunity.”

And the annual observance of Second Chance Month, celebrated every April, is making an impact. “Second Chance Sundays have been huge for our church. It’s created a culture in which everyone feels free to truly embrace one another in Christ, as he designed us to be.”

Host your own Second Chance Sunday

Jon encourages pastors and church leaders to host their own Second Chance Sunday services. But you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Jon recommends that churches take advantage of Prison Fellowship’s Second Chance Sunday Church Toolkit, available online for free. “In this toolkit, there are sermon ideas, small group discussions, coloring books for children, all types of statistics and current data. I encourage you to sign up as soon as you can for that Second Chance Sunday Church Toolkit.”

By / Oct 14

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) upholds the belief that all men and women are created in the image of God and have the right to fair and just treatment under the law. God has established government as a legitimate authority to ensure justice for its citizens (Rom. 13:1). We believe true justice executed by the government not only punishes wrongdoers but also upholds the dignity (Gen. 1:26-27) of both parties and provides a path toward reconciliation for the offender. The ERLC is committed to advocating for policy changes that strengthen families and reintegrate past offenders to their communities.

Studies demonstrate that rehabilitation certificates improve housing and employment outcomes for the formerly incarcerated.1Jennifer Doleac, Strategies to Productively Reincorporate the Formerly-Incarcerated into Communities: A Review of the Literature, IZA Institute for Study of Labor Economics (June 2018), http://ftp.iza.org/dp11646.pdf.  The Recognizing Education, Employment, New skills, and Treatment to Enable Reintegration Act of 2019, or the RE-ENTER Act, allows federal offenders to request a federal certificate of rehabilitation. These certificates would assist offenders with obtaining occupational licensing, housing, and employment while protecting employers who hire these offenders. This is a practical way to extend a second chance to people earnestly looking to become a productive member of their community.

The RE-ENTER Act is an important step in increasing successful reentry for the formerly incarcerated. The RE-ENTER Act both assists former offenders when returning to their communities and incentivizes those currently incarcerated to participate in rehabilitation programs. These programs set inmates up for successful reentry by providing opportunities for education and job training while completing their sentences; affording them positive actions to take during their imprisonment.

The SBC’s resolution on “America’s Growing Prison Population” affirms policy proposals that assist past offenders with “reintegration into society, including transitional housing, vocational and drug rehabilitation, and family support.” This resolution is a reflection of Southern Baptist’s long tradition of caring for those in prison, or who are otherwise in need (Matt. 25:36). The RE-ENTER Act is consistent with Southern Baptists’ strongly held belief in the twin virtues of justice and redemption. 

The ERLC strongly supports the bipartisan RE-ENTER Act, and urges Congress to swiftly pass this bill. The RE-ENTER act provides much needed support for those reintegrating back into their communities. Congress should continue its efforts to pursue a more just criminal justice system by passing the RE-ENTER Act.

  • 1
    Jennifer Doleac, Strategies to Productively Reincorporate the Formerly-Incarcerated into Communities: A Review of the Literature, IZA Institute for Study of Labor Economics (June 2018), http://ftp.iza.org/dp11646.pdf. 
By / Sep 21

These days it seems like we are all searching for ways to pursue justice and reconciliation. We know God calls us to “remember those in prison” (Heb. 13:3 NIV) and “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isa.1:17 ESV). Yet few churches have organized jail or prison ministries, and most evangelicals are uninvolved in pursuing justice reform

Why is that? The answer is complicated. Our justice system is exactly that—a system. It can be hard to figure out how to approach it. We may assume that, because of bureaucracy, prisons will be as difficult for us to enter as they are for prisoners to leave. We may also feel that prisoners are less deserving of our compassion than other people we might serve. 

However, God’s Word challenges us to work through those fears, challenges, and presuppositions to understand his heart for prisoners. So where do we begin? 

A free resource to help

For more than 40 years, Prison Fellowship® has been working to realize a more restorative justice system in this country, one that reflects the God-given value of each person. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. And we want to share those lessons with the church. That’s why we created Outrageous Justice®. 

Developed by Prison Fellowship’s subject-matter experts, Outrageous Justice is a free small-group study that explores the criminal justice system through a biblical lens, current events, and personal stories. Outrageous Justice is designed to awaken Christians to the need for justice that restores, then activate them to respond. Participants are equipped and encouraged to care for those affected by crime and incarceration—victims, prisoners, returning citizens, and their families—and to advocate for justice reforms. 

More than 61,000 people have walked through the study. Ninety-nine percent of participants surveyed after using the curriculum reported increased awareness about criminal justice issues. The majority also reported taking action to advance criminal justice reform—like Aaron Merritt and Ashley Erickson. 

Taking action

Aaron and Ashley are members of Mercy Hill Church in Minnesota. Like many churches in the U.S., the church hasn’t been able to meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of Aaron’s pastors approached him about leading a small group to make good use of the time. Aaron, who has been volunteering inside a correctional facility for two years with Prison Fellowship, agreed and decided to use Outrageous Justice

Ashley joined the group. She says, “I haven’t encountered a lot of people that have been incarcerated, and so I wouldn’t know what it was like. I could have an idea, but it would probably be very wrong.” Hearing firsthand from people featured in the curriculum who have committed crimes gave her a new perspective. “Humanizing them was a really big thing for me, rather than how we see [them] portrayed in media.”

Aaron enjoyed the connection to the Scriptures. He adds, “I really liked—and I think a lot of people in our group really appreciated—how action-focused it was. . . . There were actual action steps . . . from just doing email advocacy to . . . actually going to the prisons.”

By the end of the study, Ashley and Aaron were both ready to take one of those steps. “Ashley felt . . . compelled to get more involved and saw a vision for herself,” Aaron recalls. Ashley provides parent coaching to families in her community, something Aaron knew was applicable to prison ministry. “When [Aaron] mentioned that that was a possibility . . . to do in the prison, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. For sure,’” Ashley says. She has now completed volunteer training and eagerly awaits the opportunity to work with parents once prisons in her state reopen to volunteers.

Aaron just completed the training to become a Prison Fellowship Justice Ambassador. Our team trains Justice Ambassadors to advocate for cultural change and legislative reforms that advance proportional punishment, constructive prison culture, and second chances. “[Now] I’m going to start setting up meetings with representatives on some of the criminal justice initiatives that Prison Fellowship is going to be working on,” he says.

Learn what you can do

Our goal is to help you, no matter where you’re starting from, determine your response to the biblical mandate to visit those in prison and pursue justice. 

Outrageous Justice will help you better understand the criminal justice system in America and why it matters to every one of us. It will equip you to advocate for justice that restores. Most importantly, it will invite you to speak up on behalf of those who can’t, bringing redemption and hope to the criminal justice system—and to our country.

Download your free copy of Outrageous Justice today and encourage others to do the same.

By / Jul 6

It’s been dozens of days since Kerry Gant has seen her husband’s face. He’s quarantined in prison because his cell block is a COVID-19 hot spot.

“When you’re quarantining in prison,” Kerry said during a recent webinar with Prison Fellowship®, “it isn’t like quarantining in your house. It’s not like you . . . have access to all the luxuries of our nation. When you are quarantining in prison, that means lockdown. That means you’re in your cell for 23 hours a day.” 

That’s what life was like for her husband for a 21-day stretch inside his 6-by-9 cell. 

Isolated and anxious

COVID-19 spreads so fast behind bars because social distancing is next to impossible. There is rarely any personal space in prison. 

Kerry’s husband is just one of thousands of prisoners in this country that have been affected by the current pandemic. To date, 57,017 positive COVID-19 cases and 601 deaths among men and women living and working in prison have been reported.

A friend of Kerry’s husband who is incarcerated at the same facility recently got sick and presented a fever. Kerry’s husband recommended he contact an officer and report his symptoms. “Guys are hesitant to report that they have [symptoms] because . . . in some cases, quarantine means lockdown, and isolation means solitary [confinement],” Kerry says. “And then you are isolated and cut off from your family, and that’s the last thing that any person in prison wants.”

Her husband’s friend did report his illness and was later tested for COVID-19. He tested negative, but her husband didn’t hear anything for three days. During that time—and with all but one hour of his days spent in isolation—Kerry’s husband got so anxious that he had an anxiety attack. “He stayed up all night that night and wrote his last will and testament in case he didn’t make it,” Kerry recalls. 

A call to prayer

When prisoners are in lockdown, not much can be done for them by people on the outside. But there are some ways incarcerated men and women can stay in touch with their loved ones. 

Prison Fellowship is partnering with Flikshop and Stand Together to provide free messages and photos to hundreds of incarcerated men from members of their friends and family this summer. The messages of love and support will be sent on postcards, via U.S. mail. Flikshop has made it possible to instantly share selfies and special moments with any incarcerated person.  

Kerry says its hard to stay connected to her husband these days. “We find ways to connect via email, and we’re thankful for that.” (Some prisoners have limited access to secure email without internet.) “We read books together and do devotionals together,” Kerry added. “But ultimately, our phone calls are limited.”

What can’t be limited is prayer. God calls his people to remember the prisoner, and while we can’t be there in person for them right now, we can intercede for them. And we should. 

To help you pray more specifically for men and women in prison, check out our regularly updated map of how COVID-19 is impacting prisons in each state and our resource showing how many and through what mechanisms people have been released as a result of the pandemic. We also put together this guide for how you can pray for prisoners, prison staff, and their families during this crisis.

How you can remember the prisoner

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that the Body of Christ come together to care for those affected by crime and incarceration. That’s why Prison Fellowship has created these additional resources and action steps for you to prayerfully consider:

  • Use Prison Fellowship’s simple online tool to contact your federal and state lawmakers and request that they allocate funding to meet pressing needs within correctional facilities and limit the use of incarceration in certain circumstances.

Outrageous Justice® is Prison Fellowship’s free small-group study that explores the criminal justice system through a biblical lens, current events, and personal stories. While many places of worship are closed, this could be an excellent opportunity to lead or participate in an online exploration of God’s heart for justice and ways to pursue hope and restoration in our communities. Click here to download your free copy today. If you’d be interested in joining an online small group hosted by Prison Fellowship staff, you can find more information and register here.

By / Oct 29

As injustices and inequalities have been exposed, there have been increasing calls to correct the criminal justice system and our prisons. What might Christians have to say to minister to those in prisons? What is our calling toward and for the incarcerated? At Evangelicals for Life, Steven Harris moderated a panel with Thabiti Anyabwile, Heather Rice-Minus, and Julie Warren on these very issues.

By / Jun 17

Nationwide, April is recognized as Second Chance™Month. Communities observed Second Chance Month 2019 with a wide variety of events.

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, I joined a prayer walk called Road to Second Chances. There, I listened to brave men and women who once battled a cycle of addiction, incarceration, and brokenness but are finding their way forward into a new, brighter future.

Those who, by God’s grace, have climbed out of a life of crime or addiction often express deep gratitude for what he has done in their lives. But they still have mountains ahead of them. In America, people with a criminal record face lingering obstacles to housing, education, employment, and other things they need to lead full, productive lives.

Removing legal barriers

Prison ministry, like leading a Bible study behind bars, is a staple of mission-minded churches in America. A Barna poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship® found that more than 80% of Christians agreed or strongly agreed that prisoner care is important. Most practicing Christians in the same poll were also willing to say that people who have finished paying their debt to society should have a second chance to become productive members of society.

But more respondents struggled with the idea of removing the actual legal barriers to second chances for these same people

This disconnect is tragic. Roadblocks to a fair second chance make it much harder for people with a criminal record to successfully rejoin the community. Beyond widespread social stigma, people who have paid their debt to society face some 44,000 documented restrictions barring their access to education, jobs, housing, voting, and more—long after their official sentence has ended.  

Many of the restrictions are more punitive than protective and lack any obvious public safety rationale. For example, some jurisdictions prevent someone convicted of felonies from becoming licensed barbers. This is especially ironic because some of these same states have in-prison programs for barber training.

As we share the good news of Jesus Christ with people behind bars and their children, Prison Fellowship also advocates for restorative values, rooted in the truths of Scripture, to permeate new criminal justice legislation. We call for proportional punishments, constructive corrections culture, and second chances.

Prison evangelism and advocacy for second chances go hand in hand; we cannot logically separate them. If we believe that God calls us to care for men and women behind bars, should we stop caring about their prospects after they are released? If someone has decided to leave their old life behind, would God have us shackle them to it with a set of lifelong restrictions?

No life is beyond a second chance

At Prison Fellowship, we believe that no life is beyond God’s reach. Removing barriers to second chances is a tangible expression of this message of redemption. It’s also a matter of fairness and justice to allow our fellow citizens a pathway to productive, purposeful participation in the community. If returning citizens successfully rejoin the community, they are not committing new crimes or going back to prison. Then we all reap the benefits of safer, flourishing neighborhoods.  

Prison Fellowship launched the first Second Chance Month in 2017. Since then, we have been thrilled to watch the movement for second chances gain momentum. In 2019, the White House and 24 states issued Second Chance Month proclamations. More and more employers are pointing to the benefits of hiring returning citizens, too.

Creating a nationwide culture of second chances—and weaving it into the fabric of our communities and institutions—won’t happen in a single month of awareness. It will require ongoing commitment to change. But for our neighbors who have paid their debt to society, it’s vital that we do so. Together, we can affirm the God-given dignity of returning citizens and proclaim the power of redemption.