Why Prisoners Matter to Me

“We’re all ex-somethings. I wish we’d ask ourselves, ‘What would it be like if I was only known for the worst thing I’ve done?’ Moved by empathy, we’d recognize people for who they are today and not for the mistakes they made yesterday. Millions with criminal histories would unlock their potential.”

-Catherine Hoke, Founder and CEO of Defy Ventures and PEP

When I first heard Catherine Hoke, the founder of the Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), speak at Willow Creek — I remember she opened with the question.

“What would it be like if you were known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

All of us sat in silence, probably terrified by the idea. She continued, that’s what’s happening every day to people who are incarcerated. They’re labeled, marked, and branded forever. The difference between some of us in the audience and those that are in prison today — is just one little thing that they were caught.

OK, let’s dig a little deeper here — maybe it just isn’t that they’ve been caught. Maybe it’s more — maybe what separates us from them is more than luck. Statistics tell us that it’s also broken homes, educational disadvantages, mental illness, abuse, addictions, etc.

In our current correctional system — we give them a sentence to a place where they can learn their lesson and “pay” for what they’ve done. Once we decide they’ve paid their dues, they’re released.

But, my question is — will they be paying their whole lives?…when are they finished paying? What if someone was willing or wanted to change…ready to transform…what tools and resources are available to them to do that?

We have a big problem right now, according to the last study around Recidivism — which is just a fancy word for the re-arrest of an ex-offender — at the end of 5 years, 76% of people who are released from prison will return.

So, something is broken here. Is it our rehabilitation or re-entry programs or is it that not enough people care about this? I don’t know…but I’m a mission to find out.

At the heart of my journey is a question that I’ve been rolling around in my mind — why do prisoners matter to me (and to God)?

This question isn’t easy for me to articulate, it’s something I feel and sometimes feelings are hard to describe. When I received the story of the first man that I would advise from Prison, through the PEP program, part of me broke in half.

With my heart racing, my hands shaking, I scrolled through this story of a life destroyed by a broken home, bad decisions, drugs and violence. There was a daughter involved that was missing her Dad. But, at the end there was this paragraph about why he wanted to change — he met God. He talked about the joy and peace that he had — the direction, his undeniable faith — that God would be guiding his steps as he was released. As I read his words, I believed him and felt his hope as it lifted off of my computer screen and tugged at something I have always known. God is in the business of changing people — he can do it here and even in prison. This truth is what drove me to leave the comforts of my home, board a plane and visit a prison in Texas last October.

I will be writing about my journey and sharing stories as things unfold, I hope you’ll learn with me and follow along as I go on this adventure.

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