Wasted Time

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This week I am posting a poem that has been around awhile and was written by an inmate. This poem doesn’t originate from anyone that I know, but most behind bars can identify with it.

The time that I’ve wasted is my biggest regret,

Spent in these places I will never forget.

Just sitting and thinking about the things that I’ve done,

The crying, the laughing, the hurt and the fun.

Now it’s me and my hard driven guilt

Behind a wall of emptiness I allowed to be built.

I’m trapped in my body, just wanting to run

Back to my youth with its laughter and fun.

But the chase is over and there’s no place to hide

Everything is gone, including my pride.

With reality suddenly right in my face

I’m scared, alone and stuck in this place.

Now memories of the past flash through my head

And the pain is obvious by the tears that I shed.

I ask myself why and where I went wrong.

I guess I was weak when I should have been strong.

Living for the drugs and the wings I had grown,

My feelings were lost, afraid to be shown.

As I look at my past it’s so easy to see.

The fear that I had, afraid to be me.

I pretend to be rugged, so fast and so cool

When actually lost like a blinded old fool.

I’m getting too old for this tiresome game

Of acting real hard with no sense of shame.

It’s time that I change and get on with my life,

Fulfilling my dreams for a family and wife.

What my future will hold I really don’t know,

But the years that I’ve wasted are starting to show.

I just live for the day when I’ll get a new start

And the dreams I still hold deep in my heart.

I hope I can make it; I at least have to try,

Because I’m headed toward death and I don’t want to die.

 

I encourage men to not look at their incarceration as wasted time, telling them that instead this should be a learning time. A time in which God is using to mold and shape real men of God. Though many would agree with me, the words in this poem still reflect how many of the incarcerated feel! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what brings hope to all those who are incarcerated and we as Christians need to go behind the bars of prison to share this Good News!

Getting Beyond The Lid

 

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This letter was recently shared with me by a father that is incarcerated. Although he is hundreds of miles away from his children and behind razor wire and chain linked fence, he still chooses to be a positive influence to his children. I believe you will be blessed as you read this letter that he wrote to his children.

Have you ever felt like you’ve poured “Your” everything – heart, mind, soul, and strength – into a valuable project and even though you are waiting for it to bloom…it never does? Well, I have. In fact, several times. By no means would I ever boast to know everything; that would be foolish. However, I have learned this from experience…if you want to get beyond the lids of life you need God and for me it was as simple as that.

Some folks won’t accept advice unless it comes from a qualified advice giver. That’s right. Who wants medical advice from a mechanic? However, if that mechanic has survived a medical crisis that I am now experiencing, then maybe the mechanic actually knows more about my situation than a doctor who has never actually experienced it beyond his diagnosis. I’m no mechanic or doctor, but I do have some experiences that could qualify me to share a little advice about getting beyond the lids of life and it may help, if you are inclined to listen.

  I’ve survived the high school experience, I even graduated. I was a teenage parent, maybe not a good one, but what can you expect from a teenager? I’ve been in love with young ladies, older women, money, marijuana, music, and even making love (to put it nicely). I’ve served as a soldier in my family, in the street, and even in the active duty military.

I’ve dreamed of being famous, wealthy, and respected, and did whatever it took to pursue those aspirations, “All I wanted to be was…the richest man in your city.” I even made songs about it. I’ve been addicted to the game and played games with addictions. I’ve been a loving father as well as a dead beat dad. I’ve been engaged, married, and unfortunately divorced. I’ve been liked, loved, and hated; I’ve been unemployed, an employee, and yes, I’ve been the boss. I’ve owned this, that, and the other, and then I’ve turned around and lost all.

I’ve lost people that meant the world to me and I’ve survived dreadful pain that I thought would never heal. I’ve been a great inspiration to some and a drastic disappointment to others. I could probably fill this entire page with the things I’ve started, but never completed. Know anybody like that? I’ve been poor, hungry, and angry; I’ve been tired, hurt, and done wrong by those I treated right. You may not have been through any of this…but it doesn’t mean you won’t. That being said, maybe we should have a conversation.

As people, we have a tendency to “start over” when we don’t actually have to. For example, someone has already invented the wheel, so why not start from where they left off, instead of starting from scratch? Finally learning this simple lesson has worked wonders for me.

In the Old Testament Bible culture, the word “Son” is “Bane” and it means, “One who builds on the family name.” In order to do this, we must know what others in our family have already built up. Obviously, it is impossible to build on the dreams of our parents that we don’t know they had.

I am guilty of not being a good son, in that I did not purpose to build on the dreams of my parents; and I am guilty of not being a good father, in that I did not actually teach my children to build upon anything. My excuse is that I didn’t know, but of course we know what they say about excuses. The fact is this: The moment I started producing children, it became my responsibility as a man to learn what I didn’t know. None of us are exempt.

Unfortunately, it took me over 36 years of surviving foolishness to finally come to this realization. Hopefully, you will acknowledge what I am writing and get it in less time…maybe not. Either way, it won’t stop me from advising you on lid raising. I do this because I love you.

I remember how my Uncle Naman offered me the opportunity to drive trucks with him. In essence, he was presenting me with a chance to raise my lid and build on the family name. Because Uncle Naman is a man of God, I would have not only learned to drive trucks, I have no doubt that I would have also learned a lot about the Lord. I realize today he was trying to fill the father role in my life where my biological dad was absent. Maybe if I had taken his loving offer, I would not be incarcerated at this time.

Today, I have grandchildren I have never held and adult children I haven’t embraced in over 10 years. One thing I think we all know from experience is this: tomorrow is not promised. Yes, I’ve been down some roads, physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, but so have you and maybe we can learn from each other about getting beyond the lids of life. I would be honored if you built on my experiences instead of starting from scratch, but since I’m still building I am not beyond using your experiences as building blocks.

The greatest disadvantage of starting from scratch is that we often make mistakes that someone else has already figured out, it wastes time that could be spent more productively. As a business man, you know I hate to waste time, and as a minister, I love to talk about the Lord.

In the Holy Bible I found a treasure of helpful information and a wealth of building blocks. God has already figured it all out if we would only listen. That lesson alone took me 32 years to learn. After trying almost everything else, God’s way not only made perfect sense, His ways actually work. Today, not only has He got me beyond the lids in my life, but now I am honored to build on the family name of God.

I heard it put this way by an old woman of God. She simply said, “Son, you need to try Jesus.” It took a while, but I finally took her advice and the lids were lifted; in fact, they are still being lifted. So as I stated before, “If you want to get beyond the lids of life, you need the Lord, and for me it was as simple as that.”

Featured Book “Prison Ministry, Understanding Prison Culture Inside and Out”

51qOplk2zFL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Our featured book this month is “Prison Ministry, Understanding Prison Culture Inside and Out” written by Lennie Spitale. This was one of the first books that I read when I began serving as a full-time chaplain inside of prison. The book is written by a former inmate and he provides a through view of prison life. For most Christians, prison culture is like visiting a foreign land and the thought of ministering in prisons to those incarcerated is an intimidating prospect. This book will offer you the empowerment you need in doing effective prison ministry.

This book is divided up into four parts, 1) Feelings, 2) Perspectives, 3) Dynamics, 4) Engaging the Culture, and has a total of 31 chapters. The first 3 sections of the book present us with an inside-out view of the prisoner’s world and attempts to scratch the surface of how it feels to live in his or her shoes. The author shares his story throughout the book and begins with the hurt that many feel when they become incarcerated. He writes, “The greatest pain of incarceration is the forcible separation from those you hold most dear.” He suggests that the potential volunteer in the prison setting should be aware of this particular pain even if they never have experienced it. He then writes about one of the greatest foes for an inmate is “time.” It is the hands of a clock that keep them shackled, not the hands of the guards that escort them. Prison is about time and the prisoner is at war. He can fight it, he can attempt to fool it, he can wrestle, play, pray and waste it all together, but he cannot defeat it. Then he goes on to share how volunteers can help these men and women behind bars cope with their prison time. He writes, “The Christian volunteer must never underestimate what a crucial role he or she plays in the lives of these men and women in this time of despair.”

In Chapter 4 he addresses the worldview of so many that are incarcerated. They tend to perceive themselves as lone combatants engaged in a guerrilla-type conflict, pitted against incredible odds. The enemy is “the system,” a dark Goliath that seeks to swallow up their lives and overpower them at every turn. He challenges Christian volunteers to help inmates see that it is possible they have come to this place in order to realize their need for God and that there is a source of strength that comes from beyond themselves. He then writes about the loneliness that permeates the air inside of prisons and how the presence of Christian volunteers helps these men and women cope. Loneliness is a part of the fabric of prison life. But if a person combines the awareness of that pain with the compassion of Christ, they will find themselves an effective instrument in the Lord’s hands.

Later on in the book the author addresses the culture of hardness inside of prison. Attitudes are tough, eyes are unrevealing, tattoos are defiant, muscles are flexed, gaits are cool, fists are clenched, scars are deep, and weakness is scorned. But behind all the concrete and steel are real people with real needs and real feelings. It is in this environment that Christian volunteers come and speak kind words, soft words, words of friendship, and personal vulnerability. They display weakness. They talk about Jesus and the message of His touch breaks the bonds of the culture. When truly received, His incarcerated children are also able to break the mold and discover their true selves. There is no freedom like the freedom Jesus Christ can bring.

The author writes on many subjects of prison culture such as the “Unwritten Code of Ethics” and “Institutionalization.” Close to the end of the book in the final section titled “Engaging the Culture,” he begins to engage culture itself. He provides some basic guidelines and practical tips for getting started, starting with the spiritual climate of prisons and jails. You will find this book an easy read and worth your time spent reading it. Chuck Colson the founder of Prison Fellowship said that this book has fascinating insights about prison culture and how to reach it. He believes it should be mandatory reading for everyone in corrections and for Christians who care about the commandments to visit prison. I would also highly recommend for you to read this book and you can purchase it by clicking on the books image.

An Attack on Family

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One of the institutions that God designed in this world is family. We know from looking around us that family is under attack in this world. In fact I believe it is on the top of Satan’s to do list to destroy this institution. He seeks to turn husband against wife, wife against husband, children against parents, parents against children and sadly He has been successful. The divorce rate is around 50 % and there are approximately 18 million children across the United States growing up in fatherless homes. Many of these fatherless homes are due to the fact that over a million fathers are incarcerated in the United States. This is the very reason why I believe courses like “Inside Out Dad” are important inside of prison. I have made this course from National Fatherhood Initiative, a priority in the prison I serve at because I want to help fathers increase their involvement, responsibility and commitment to their children and the mothers of their children even while incarcerated.

Another interesting fact is that the family is one of this country’s most valuable weapons in fighting crime. Prisoners who receive visitors, maintain family ties, and are released to a stable home environment are more likely to succeed in leading productive, crime-free lives. Families provide an incentive for prisoners to grow, learn, and change. It’s not always easy, but parents in prison can contribute positively to a child’s upbringing through letter writing, phone calls, and family visits. This is why it is important to pray for the families of the incarcerated and help them remain connected if at all possible.

I believe one of the overlooked set of people in this world is the families of the incarcerated. When the father goes to prison it creates a void in the home. There is really no way to replace it! I would like to challenge us as Christians to reach out to the families of the incarcerated. They are all around you, it may be your neighbor, the person you work with, or the family you attend church with. Reach out to them, not with a self-righteous attitude but with a caring one. They get judged daily by people just because their father has been incarcerated. When you caringly ask a mother how her child is coping with her father’s incarceration and offer to pray for the family, this is as much a ministry as sending children to summer camp or providing Christmas gifts. In fact, it may be even greater. We as Christians need to make time to boldly bring the needs of prisoners’ families before the throne of God! Or maybe you’re okay with the status quote. I’M NOT!

2016 Courage Class Essays

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One of our classes recently finished studying ten principles of Courage. After the class I asked each one to write a short essay on how the study of Courage has affected the attitude toward their current circumstances and their future. There were 85 graduates and each wrote a great essay about how the class had an effect on their lives so I wanted to share with you some excerpts from some of their essays.

Anthony- This course has given me the courage to look within myself. It has given me the courage to be who I was intended to be.

Charles- To me courage was always about fighting. During the course of this study I have learned that courage is about facing ones fears, doing what is right even when it seems that doing what is right isn’t profitable.

Kevin- I never thought of courage the different ways it was described in this study. Courage not only is used to face dangerous times in life but we use courage to face our own problems.

De’won- My thinking and behavior has changed dramatically on courage. I used to be a yes man going on and doing what others wanted me to do but I’ve now got some courage to stand up for myself and do what’s right.

One of the questions that I asked the men was, “What moral code of behavior guides your actions?”

Jeffery- It is very simple, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Mark- The moral code that guides my actions are Gods commandments and the principles of right and wrong, good and bad, and thinking on what is positive and morally right.

Joseph- The moral code that I stand on is to not lie, steal, and cheat others and to treat others as I would like to be treated.

Cedric- The moral code that guides my life is my belief in God and everything that God has laid out for us to live by and how we should act in the different situations that we face in life.

One of the principles in this study of Courage was “Forgiveness.” I asked the question, “Explain the importance of forgiveness in your life?”

Adam- The importance of forgiveness in my life is for me to forgive the guy who stabbed me 9 times. If I can’t forgive him how can I expect my victim’s family to forgive me?

Thomas- Forgiveness brings about freedom to live, do and be. I refuse to allow what someone did to me keep me bound up in bitterness.

Walter- I have learned to let go of the past, my hurt, pain, disappointments, and of course my bitterness. It had become unnecessary baggage that was traveling with me, physically and emotionally. In order to be free, I had to let go and let God!

Edwin- It is important that I ask my family to forgive me for being out of their lives and coming to prison.

Derrick- Forgiveness is really important, because it is what God has done for us!

I was encouraged by all their essays and pray that these men would seek after Christ daily as He continues to change their thoughts and patterns of life.

“Where is Barnabas?” A Plea From An Incarcerated Brother

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The Apostle Paul had a very “sketchy” past.  He was of an elite sect of Jews, who persecuted Christians.  He had consented and participated in the arrest and death of Christians, including Stephen.  While he was traveling on the Damascus Road with a decree to arrest Christians, he encountered the Lord Jesus.

A blind Saul was led to Damascus where he encountered a man named Ananias who ministered to him, baptized him, and fed him.  Saul then started testifying to the goodness of the Lord and preaching “the way”.

Saul’s work was so mighty that the Jews plotted on killing him and he had to be smuggled out of Damascus and into Jerusalem.  When he arrived there, he tried to join himself to other believers, but they were afraid of him.  Their fear caused them to reject Saul until a man named Barnabas came to Saul’s defense.

Barnabas acknowledged that Saul indeed had done everything that he was accused of, but, nevertheless, he had experienced a legitimate encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and had been preaching and testifying mightily in that name.  The other disciples extended the right hand of fellowship to Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul.  He would later go on several missionary journeys and would establish Churches all over the known world.  He also wrote epistles that were used to make up a large part of what we call the New Testament.

How can this story be applied in our daily lives?  There are numerous men in Correctional Facilities across this State whose pasts are just as “sketchy” as the Apostle Paul.  They have committed crimes against the State and the people who live in it.  They are guilty and deserve their punishment; there is no question or argument about it; however, like Saul, many have had a real encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The “scales” have fallen from their eyes and they see the truth.  Their life is different than it once was and they are testifying mightily in the name of the Lord.  They are going around doing the work of the Lord and are making a difference where they are at, even though they know they have been sentenced to die in prison.  Yet, they serve the Lord and are no longer part of the problem, but part of the solution.

But no one seems to know about them.  Where is Barnabas?  If a converted Saul can be given the chance to make a difference, what about the men today?  Murder is murder, and theft is theft, right?  Are the crimes of today really so different from those in Saul’s day?  The truth is that there are some “Paul’s” in the Department of Corrections; they have met Jesus and have been visited by Ananias, but where is their Barnabas?

Is this not what the Gospel is all about: sinners coming to repentance?  The message of the Gospel is that we are out of line, out of sync with God, but through the blood of Jesus, we can be back in right standing with God and receive our reward, even though we had “sketchy” pasts.  The blood of Jesus is stronger than any sin that has ever been committed or will be committed.  That is the truth of the Gospel.

Yet, even though God accepts sinners, rebels, and criminals into His grace through the blood of His Son, society still refuses to.  If a holy God, who has no sin or flaws in Him will receive a person, shouldn’t a society that has sin and flaws in it accept them also?

It is time for the men and women who are diligently carrying out the Great Commission to acknowledge that there are Paul’s in the prison.  It is time to help these “Paul’s” achieve their destiny.  There is no telling what potential these men have.

Venom is used to treat snake bites; fire is used to fight fires; ex-addicts are used to combat addictions.  What about using those who once broke the Law to help fix the ever-growing crime and recidivism rates?   We need to learn to forgive and restore those who were once broken.  If “Corrections” truly exists, then there has to be “Restoration”.  After all, it is the “Department of Corrections”, not the “Department of Everlasting Punishment”.

The Prison of Sin

The Prison of Sin

This following thought was shared with me by an incarcerated brother one day as we were sitting in the cell block discussing the likeness between sin and prison.

As I sat one day just looking around at my situation, I thought to myself how awful a place like prison is. But on the other hand, there is another prison that is just as costly and demeaning as this one where I sit today. This is the prison of sin. This prison of sin has held mankind captive since the fall in the Garden of Eden. This prison of sin has no bars, no razor wire, and no guards to keep me in its tight grip.

Oddly enough, we’re held prisoners more or less at our own choosing. This prison of sin can be pleasurable and fun for a season, but the end of this prison sentence is separation from God for all of Eternity. There will be no appeals or reprieves. God’s Word is final.

Oh, but there is hope. One came from God to open the prison doors, to set the captives free; His name is Jesus. He is the only hope that we have of being freed from this prison of sin. Friends we have many opportunities in this life to accept the pardon that Jesus offers, but death seals our fate. Who will be free today? Choose Jesus. He is the only way out of this prison of Sin. Amen.

The Power of Prison Ministry

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This following well written article by Attorney Jason W. Swindle Sr. and was originally posted on the blog at the Swindle Law Group. It highlights the power of prison ministry and how that the Word of God has a positive impact on many inmates. I recently did a podcast with Jason Swindle which will be shared next week on this website as well as on Itunes, Stitcher Radio, and Soundcloud at “Detention to Redemption.

Over the years, I have noticed a number of organizations going into jails and prisons for various reasons. One of the most important and powerful groups is the variety of prison ministries who take the message of Christ to inmates.

These groups of selfless believers represent many types of denominations and faiths. I am most familiar with the Christian groups who bring the Word to local jails and prisons in the west Georgia area. Most of the men and women who do this service work do not want to be mentioned or given any recognition. They provide ministry to inmates because Jesus advocated this type action.

Over 2000 years ago, before Jesus commissioned all of His disciples to make disciples of all nations, he commissioned a number of John the Baptist’s followers to carry on a prison ministry to their teacher. They were to answer the question whether Jesus was the Promised One or whether they should expect someone else.

With the commission went the message: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me (Luke 7:18-23).” In that message there was, and is, also “freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18).” Jesus is the Son of God.

While most prison ministries are conducted by Christians who are not incarcerated, the Bible speaks of the importance of ministry within the walls of confinement.

Perhaps the most well-known prison ministry conducted by a prisoner was that of the Paul. Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, was imprisoned and under a sentence of death. Notwithstanding his situation, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, ministered to other inmates and guards, and wrote some of the most important letters in the Bible.
Acts 16:25 records a prison ministry carried on by prisoners: “About midnight Paul and
Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”

That event in Philippi also marked the first occasion, but not the last, when a prison official was also converted by the gospel preached in prison: “He and all his family were baptized…. He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family (Acts 16:33).”

Based on my experience, I have also seen many inmates “find God” while they are incarcerated. Some of these people used religion or perceived spirituality as a vehicle to try to get out of jail or receive a lighter sentence. These folks are easily identified by most judges and prosecutors. The fake “finding religion” does not work very well when planning a way to responsibly handle a criminal case.

However, the Word of God does have a positive impact on many prisoners and inmates who receive the Word in a genuine way. Oftentimes, a trip to the county jail is the first time a person has ever heard or read the Bible.
While it would be impossible to determine a prison ministry’s impact on the rate of recidivism, I can personally testify that I have seen many of my clients change their lives for the better by receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior. Prison ministry does help individuals and society as a whole.

Lastly, I just want to thank those folks who spoke to me about their work with prison ministries. Your work may go unnoticed in society. However, you are fulfilling one of the great commissions of Jesus Christ.

God Bless.

The Leper, An Outcast of Society

 

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In a recent podcast I did with John Leemasters titled “The Leper And The Incarcerated, The Outcast Of Society” we talked about the similarities between the life of a Leper in biblical times to the life of an incarcerated individual today. After doing this particular interview I was moved to go and do a more in-depth study on leprosy, the treatment of lepers and the hope that a leper had and draw out the similarities with the incarcerated.

Early on in my study of leprosy I was led to a passage of scripture, Leviticus 13, where it says that anyone suspected of having this disease had to go to a priest for examination. If found to be infected, the leprous person who has the disease was to wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He was to remain unclean as long as he has the disease.

Leprosy in ancient times was incurable by man, many believed God inflicted the curse of leprosy upon people for the sins they committed. In fact, those with leprosy were so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people. Among the sixty-one defilements of ancient Jewish laws, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died.

So you may ask where are the similarities to the incarcerated in our time? First many believed God inflicted the curse upon people for the sins they committed. Today men still commit sin some sins we view often more hideous then others, those who commit these sins are taken before the courts to be found guilty and then sentenced, much like those men and women in Leviticus 13 that go before the priest for examination and sentenced as unclean. The physical distress and the emotional response to a future of disease and death is only part of the burden of the leper. They become society’s despised outcasts. They were driven from their homes and had to live outside the city. Today when men and women are found guilty of their crimes many also become society’s despised outcasts, they are driven from their homes and everything they love and is dear to them and live in society’s trash heaps called prisons.

Now let me stop here and say I believe in incarceration. I believe there needs to be a punishment for the wrongs that we make. But I don’t believe that we as Christians should forget about them or chose not to engage them. There are no outcasts to God, He loves them all! Shouldn’t we? Regardless of what they have done! Who are we that we put limits on who we can love and who we can’t?  We can read that it did not take long before a leper’s spirit would be broken, and his self-image would deteriorate so that he considered himself unworthy of love or companionship.  Today many who are incarcerated, their spirits have been broken, their self-image has deteriorated and they feel unworthy of love and companionship. Society doesn’t care! Do we as Christians care? Or do we believe we should just lock them up and throw away the key?

We can read in the Bible that there was hope for a leper, that hope was found in Jesus. In Matthew 8 the Bible records the story of a leper who was the first to be healed by Jesus. This man had heard about Jesus, the healer and the Savior who can help him out of this condition. And so he came to Jesus, begging him on his knees. His lack of confidence in himself was evident as he cried out in a state of helplessness and self-pity, “If you are willing, you can make me clean!” Jesus being moved by pity and filled with compassion stretched out his hands and touched him! People around him were shocked to see that! “How can Jesus touch an unclean? He would also become ‘unclean’.” Some whispered! But there was a reverse phenomenon at work. Jesus’s touch healed him and not only healed his body but his soul as well.

You see friends there is also hope for the outcast of our society (those in our prisons). That hope is in Jesus. Just like the Leper in Matthew 8 they need to hear about Jesus, the healer, the One the saves! Are you willing to reach out to the incarcerated, are you willing to share with them Jesus? Prisons are full of broken people that need the touch of Jesus the healer. What are you going to do about it?

CHHS Student Encourages Others Through Story of Forgiveness

Tristan Ziannis, left, and her mother Kelly have been sharing their family's story of forgiveness in public lately to help others coping with similar circumstances. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

This story was written by Emily Sparacino and published on May 2 in the Shelby County Reporter and it highlights the family of a formerly incarcerated man. This well written story is one of love and forgiveness and is well worth reading. I recently did a podcast with Kelly Ziannis which will be shared next month on this website as well as on Itunes, Stitcher Radio, and Soundcloud at “Detention to Redemption.


Chelsea High School senior Tristan Ziannis has been particularly busy the last few months with school, softball and preparations for college in the fall.

Ziannis, 17, is nearing the end of both her impressive career with the Lady Hornets and her time as a student at CHHS. Like her classmates, she has plenty of excuses to keep her extracurricular activities to a minimum as graduation approaches.

But Ziannis has been far from selfish with her time outside of the classroom and away from the softball field lately. Extenuating circumstances with family members have landed Ziannis in a supportive role, and recently, she started speaking publicly about some of the experiences that have shaped her childhood and changed her family.

Ziannis said she hopes her story helps others who are facing similar circumstances.

Trials and time

Kelly Ziannis, Tristan’s mother, was 4 years old when Kelly’s father moved out of their home.

His life began unraveling when he returned from the Korean War, and alcohol and other factors surfaced.

“Things got worse after he came back from war,” Kelly said.

When Kelly was Tristan’s age, her father went to prison for murder.

“I testified against him,” Kelly said. “That kind of broke our relationship for quite some time.”

Kelly moved on with her life and eventually had her only daughter, Tristan.

She allowed Tristan to speak with her grandfather on the phone, and Tristan was well aware of the circumstances that led to his incarceration.

“She understood what he did at an early age,” Kelly said.

They sent him clippings of newspaper articles about Tristan’s softball games periodically, and he and Tristan spent much time talking about “ball and God,” Kelly said.

“I talked to him a lot on the phone,” Tristan said.

Then, after one of Kelly’s nephews died in a car accident, Tristan asked her mother if they could visit her grandfather in prison.

“I had never taken her to see him,” Kelly said of Tristan, who was 7 at the time. “She asked me to take her to prison to meet her Papi. I asked her why, and she said he was sad, too, and he needed a hug.”

Kelly agreed, and 10 years after last seeing him at the trial, Kelly took Tristan to the St. Clair Correctional Facility for what would be an emotional meeting.

Without having seen him in person before, Tristan ran straight to her grandfather and hugged him.

“He cried, and I had never seen him cry,” Kelly said. “At that point on, my forgiveness (for him) started then. He got saved the next day. He said that she (Tristan) was forgiveness in its purest form.”

Letting go

Kelly’s mother moved in with her and Tristan about five years ago to recuperate from shoulder replacement surgery.

She has always been involved in Tristan’s life and is a fixture at the softball field, affectionately known by Tristan’s teammates as “Nana.”

“My mom has been a godsend, a rock,” Kelly said.

In September 2015, Kelly’s father called them and said his cancer from a decade ago was back. At 81       years old, serving a life without parole sentence, he declined to undergo treatment.

Two weeks later, Kelly’s mother had a massive stroke.

In the weeks and months after, when they weren’t at work or school, Kelly and Tristan split their time between her mother and father, logging several more visits with him in the prison infirmary before he died in mid­February.

Tristan described the last visits as “family times” during which she gained a strong sense of the man he  was apart from his shackles and tainted past.

“I actually really liked him. He was really smart,” Tristan said. “He was very sweet. I liked him more than I expected.”

Kelly said the news of her father’s illness solidified her love and forgiveness for him.

“When I got that phone call, the one thing that was there is I knew I loved him,” she said. “We took an    entire lifetime and crammed it into five months, and that was for her (Tristan) and for me. She never gave up on him.”

Kelly’s mother also granted him forgiveness in the process.

“They talked on the phone, and he apologized, and they said they loved one another,” Kelly said of her    parents. “I had never heard that in my life, and neither had she.”

A platform worth sharing

Several weeks ago, Tristan seized an opportunity to share her story with children and adults at Village     Springs Baptist Church in Remlap.

Pastor Glenn Bynum, who works in prison ministry and knew Kelly’s father, invited Tristan and Kelly to     speak to others –particularly children  that might be grappling with issues related to a family member in prison.

Tristan’s approach to talking about her grandfather is open and honest.

“It’s never been anything that I hide,” she said. “I think some people are more particular about it and don’t want to say anything. You shouldn’t want to keep it a secret because it is what it is.”

Although the entry process and security checks for visitors at the prison can be scary for someone who has never been, Tristan said she would have regretted not visiting her grandfather.

She also talked about forgiveness as a means to having a positive relationship with someone in the same situation.

“Don’t be discouraged,” she said. “I think forgiving is big. You can’t change it, and they can’t change it either.

“I don’t like holding onto things. If you hold onto it, you’ll miss out on something.”

Tristan and Kelly recently participated in a podcast called “Detention to Redemption,” and hope to continue sharing their experiences through different outlets in the future.

Tristan’s plans after graduation May 24 are to start at Southern Union State Community College in August and eventually transfer to Auburn University. She wants to work in family counseling, she said.

“She’s very successful,” Kelly said of Tristan. “I don’t know what we did to raise her right, but I’ll take it.”