Past, Present, and Future
For those of you who have been following this ministry for the past several years, you already know how I do this. I get an idea, I pray about what to do with the idea, and then I start putting it into action. Since we started this ministry a little over twelve years ago, there have been three goals in mind:
• To come alongside those in prison to encourage them in their journey with God.
• To come alongside the families of those incarcerated and encourage them as they deal with the challenges involved with having a family member in prison.
• To disciple, mentor, and coach those who have previously been in prison to become the men and women God desires them to be.
An important part of success after being released back into society is for the formerly incarcerated to stay out of prison. Statistics have shown this to be a huge challenge.
My first book, Plain Vanilla Wrapper, is the story of my journey into and out of prison. We have given away over 21,000 copies, and these books have played an important role in many of those in prison turning to God. My second book, Hoosier Dad, is a guide on how to become a better father. We have given hundreds of these away and received many testimonies of how it was helpful in the restoration of relationships between dads in prison and their children. My third book, Lessons for Life, was originally written as a correspondence course to help prepare those in prison for when they are released. We currently have over 800 students participating in this correspondence program through the mail, and over 250 have been participating in it in a live setting over the past year and a half.
As a continuing part of our strategy to accomplish our goals, the time has come for me to put more emphasis on what I believe is the key to reducing recidivism. For this reason, I am embarking on the task of writing a fourth book. The working title is The Little Work Book. The following is the introduction.
The Little Work Book
This month, March 2018, is my twenty-fifth year since I was released from prison. I was sentenced in 1991, and at that point, I thought I had ruined my life. I had created devastating debt, deceived my family, my friends, and even myself. Some people can read a book, listen to a sermon, or do a self-help program to learn from their mistakes. I had to go to prison.
As I reflect on where I was then and where I am today, I can’t help but feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude toward God for all He has changed in me. It is because of those changes and the process of those changes that I feel compelled to write this book on the subject of work. The substance of this is a lot bigger than it may appear at first glance. Understanding work and embracing it can transform those who are unaware of its value. My belief in the importance of work is based on my own experiences and observing many other people’s lives over the past twenty-five years.
For the past twelve years, I have been involved in prison ministry. This includes those who are incarcerated and their families. I have witnessed firsthand the heartbreak these families experience over and over again as their son or daughter or dad or mom or brother or sister get stuck in the cycle of what many refer to as the “revolving door” of prison. Most of these offenders are not hardened criminals. They have made some poor decisions usually tied in some way to drugs, alcohol, selfishness, rebellion, or unhealthy relationships. And unfortunately, unless there is some radical change in their thinking and actions, they will probably repeat their mistakes.
I’ve thought about the subject of work for many years. I was raised in a family where a good work ethic was never discussed because it was assumed. If you wanted or needed something, work was the beginning point to having it. In my younger years, I didn’t even know what a “handout” was. Government assistance, food stamps, and welfare were never considered or talked about in a positive way, even though there were times when we would have qualified to be at the front of the line. The concept of working for things rather than looking to get something for nothing was not just the way of our family, but the way of most of the families I grew up around.
When I went to prison, I was introduced to a new world where the majority had a different perspective on work and living. As a whole they were takers not givers. They displayed a victim mentality. They talked as if the world owed them something. They viewed laziness and taking advantage of other people’s kindness as being clever. Some had previously been homeless and laughed about “those fools who work for a living.” Listening to them, I felt like I was on a different planet. How could they live this way? How could they think like this?
A year or so ago, I heard someone on the radio say something to the effect of, “Imagine what it would be like to turn eighteen, and you’ve never had a job, and you’ve never seen your dad, or mom, or uncles, or aunts, or friends, or anyone in your neighborhood go to work. How do you think that would shape your outlook on making it in life?”
This is one of the reasons I decided to write a book on work. The goal is not to judge but to encourage. After twelve years of working day in and day out with those who are incarcerated, I have witnessed two factors that have proven to reduce recidivism time and again: a healthy community of friends and a healthy work ethic. And if I had to choose only one of these, it would be work because a healthy work ethic is a pathway to attracting a healthy community of friends.
Some would argue that becoming a Christian is the key to reducing recidivism. While this is undoubtedly true, it’s not enough by itself. Unfortunately, there are many good-hearted, well-meaning Christians who will spend the rest of their lives in and out of prison because they will never embrace this wonderful God-given gift of work. In many cases, it is not because they are refusing it, but because they don’t understand it. It is foreign to them. They do not have the context for it.
One of the saddest conversations I’ll have is when I’m talking to someone who is in their mid-to-late forties, and they inform me that they have never held a steady job in their entire lives. The good news is that God is not confused or confounded by their circumstance, and if change is what they sincerely desire, He will help them.
Romans 8:31 (NLT)
... If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Romans 8:37 (NLT)
... overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Philippians 4:13 (NLT)
... I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
These are not pithy little sayings. They are absolutely true. In every instance where a person has taken seriously their dependency upon God and applied a good work ethic, they have experienced success. I understand this as well as anyone because I know what it is like to be in prison. I know what it is like to lose everything, and I know what it is to have crushing debt. I know what it feels like to come out of prison and feel shunned by the world. I know what is involved in dealing with parole. I know what it is to feel overwhelmed and hopeless with my future. But I also know the other side: the success side. I know what it takes to become totally dependent upon God, and I understand how this wonderful God-given gift of work can change anyone.