Engaging views and analysis from outside contributors on the issues affecting society and faith today.

CP VOICES do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

From prison to Jesus' mission of second chances

An inmate receives a Prison Fellowship Life Recovery Bible.
An inmate receives a Prison Fellowship Life Recovery Bible. | Prison Fellowship

The first time I was arrested, I was 8 years old. Having been abandoned by my father and removed from my mother’s care as a toddler, I started committing crimes at a young age. In 2005, at 19, I was sentenced to 11 1/2 years in the adult justice system. While incarcerated, my Christian cellmate read his Bible daily and often shared the Gospel with me. He relentlessly pursued me, asking repeatedly if I was ready to accept Jesus. Day after day, I said no.

Until one day, when I said yes.

The Lord changed my heart right there in our cell, but I still battled my old habits. In solitary confinement, Jesus met me in a powerful way, and I decided to turn my heart completely towards Him. My life has never been the same since.

Currently, there are almost 1.9 million incarcerated individuals in the U.S., and more than 450,000 will return to their communities each year. They deserve to start fresh but to thrive, they need a second chance — from employers, landlords, and society at large. Second chances will play a significant role in the success of these individuals and, in turn, will create stronger communities. But returning citizens face many challenges — as I know from my own experience.  

After serving my sentence, I truly wanted to leave prison and reenter society as a good citizen. I understood that justice had to be served, and I did not want to return to a life of crime. After my release, I worked a minimum-wage job and lived with family and friends. I knew that education would be key to moving forward, so I enrolled in college classes online. Becoming the first person in my family to graduate from college, I later went on to get my master’s degree in professional counseling with a focus on addiction and recovery.

God turned the pain of my past into a passion, and I now work for Prison Fellowship, proving that redemption is possible for formerly incarcerated people.

But those achievements didn’t come without challenges.

Individuals released from prison face enormous obstacles that often hinder them from reaching their full potential. I was released from prison at 26 without any job skills. While I was grateful to find work, the minimum wage doesn’t go very far when you’re trying to establish a new life. But even when I could afford to start living on my own, I was often told not to bother filling out an application for an apartment — my criminal record would mean an automatic rejection.

Despite 1 in every 3 adults in America having a criminal record, there are nearly 44,000 legal barriers to accessing things like employment, housing, education, and voting. During such a vulnerable and tumultuous period as reentry, it’s natural to return to what you know. No wonder the recidivism rate is high. This is exactly why we need to increase support, working to eliminate barriers and stigma for formerly incarcerated men and women after they have completed their sentence and return to society.

If 95% of those incarcerated will return to our communities, we need to focus on what kind of support and resources they will find upon reentry. At Prison Fellowship, we believe that formerly incarcerated individuals can have their lives transformed through the grace and love of Jesus Christ and become productive citizens. The church is uniquely positioned to affect this outcome, as we are called to serve those in need, including those who were imprisoned.

Individuals serving time are part of Jesus’ mission. What better way to extend care than for local churches and organizations to come alongside them and provide resources and opportunities for a second chance? The church was pivotal in my own reintegration and growth. From providing for me practically to pouring into me spiritually, the church’s response nurtured a tremendous season of healing, one that prepared me to be a good citizen, husband, and father to my four kids.

We can dramatically impact the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. Providing presence, words of encouragement, and practical support can make all the difference in helping people transition back into the community — and start their second chance.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

Sammy Perez is the Grassroots Program Director at Prison Fellowship.

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More In Opinion