(Photo: Lovell/Fairchild Communications)
Prison Fellowship, the world's largest Christian outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families, is partnering with the producers of "Unconditional," and plans to show screenings of the inspirational movie inside two Florida correctional facilities during Easter weekend.
The events also feature Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske and "Papa Joe" Bradford, a former maximum security inmate now working to improve the lives of Nashville's at-risk kids. His life is the inspiration behind the film.
"To help 'Papa Joe' share his message of God's life-changing, unconditional love is an honor," Liske said. "And this Easter weekend screening is just the beginning, as Prison Fellowship programs have the potential to connect or reconnect inmates in 1,200 prisons across the country to God's love and their purpose in life through this inspiring film."
As a young African American with unlimited potential, according to the producers of the movie, Bradford landed in prison among violent offenders after putting his considerable computer skills to work hacking into a bank and robbing it of about $200 (which he paid back).
"I know what it means to be the man in prison," Bradford said. "And I'm so excited that my story in the film 'Unconditional' can be used to bring hope to these men and their families. There are more than 2 million children of incarcerated parents in the U.S., and they need our love and encouragement."
Presently, Bradford and his wife lead Elijah's Heart Ministry, which shows love to underprivileged children and their families, assisting them with practical needs and inspiring others to act by raising awareness of these often-desperate situations.
The special screenings of "Unconditional" will be shown at Orlando's Central Florida Reception Center on Saturday and the Desoto Correctional Institution in Arcadia, Fla., on Easter Sunday.
The Christian Post interviewed Bradford via email on Thursday.
CP: What was the turning point in your life where you decided to help others by telling your story?
Bradford: There's really a two-part answer to that question. When my wife, Denise, and I first moved into the income-based community in Nashville, this little deaf girl lived right next door to me. She came up to my door, and at the time I didn't know she was deaf. I looked at her, and I said, 'Hey, what do you want?' And she just looked at me. Well, Denise gave her some candy. And there were 50 children living in our neighborhood. And what happens when you give one child a piece of candy? Whether they're deaf or not, your house is full of children. So we decided to make a choir out of these children. And that's how we started working with kids. Then you come forward many years, and our activity has grown into a much larger ministry to under-resourced children, and the opportunity came for a film to be made. I knew the skeletons in my closet were going to be revealed to the whole world about a time from my past I'm not proud of. But I hoped that things in my life, let's just say what I overcame, could be an inspiration. So one of the main reasons I agreed to do this movie is that I believed it was going to be a call to action, and it is. A call to action to help at-risk children throughout the country and the world.
CP: Can you give a short testimony about your faith?
Bradford: In "Unconditional" there is a re-enactment of a terrible fight from when I was in prison. At that time, anger in me had skyrocketed. I spent my life trying to prove I was worth something. I was making good grades in college, I had completed a cooperative program with a wonderful company, I was going to be graduating, and here I am with what I thought were crazy men. And so I became an animal. In prison you had to either be a wolf or a sheep, and I was determined to be a wolf, and anger just grew and grew. And so it was almost an excuse to just take the anger out. I was trying to rescue this guy, and I fought Big Mack; I just wanted to unleash everything in me that had destroyed my life, and I almost killed this guy. And at that point, when I was placed in solitary confinement for 40 days, I realized that was not what God meant for my life. I had a dream while I was in solitary, and in the dream, I saw a red rose floating on a river. And I felt like the red rose was the love of God to me, that would be forever flowing in my life. And I came in contact with Jesus, I believe, right there, in the most unusual spot."
CP: What do you look forward to most about this showing of "Unconditional" at the prisons you will be at this Easter weekend?
Bradford: It just makes me so grateful because I know what those who'll see "Unconditional" are going through, how they think and feel. Being able to bring a message of hope to them is a wonderful opportunity, and the fact that it's on Easter weekend, where we remember Jesus' sacrifice that gave us all hope, makes this truly special.
CP: What do you hope those in prison come away with after this Easter event, including the movie?
Bradford: It's the Easter message itself; you don't have to be who you are now. There's love and acceptance in Christ, and there is a life ahead of you where you can live with purpose and dignity.
CP: Anything else you would like to add?
Bradford: I do try to encourage everyone to remember those in need throughout our country. People can't believe it, but more than 46 million Americas, including 16 million children, will go to bed hungry tonight or unsure where their next meal comes from. As Christians, we need to bring hope to the hopeless and help to the helpless. And everyone is in position to do something. It's my heart to share practical ways to serve at-risk children in your community and serve your local nonprofits through our National Walk of Love Program.