Spiritual Liberation for Prisoners
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Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
Dennis Rainey gives a message at a local prison, and some of the men catch the vision. Also, hear from Pete Leonard who wants to bestow dignity and worth to former prisoners.
Spiritual Liberation for Prisoners
Michelle: It’s often said that poverty and prison go hand in hand; but the question is: “What kind of poverty?” Here’s a man whose perspective on that is formed by first-hand experience.
Doug: My name’s Doug Wilson, and I’ve been incarcerated for more than 20 years now. You see, when I was growing up, my dad knew how to provide for his family; he was good at that. He gave us things he never had, and he did a good job at that; but my dad didn’t know how to be a spiritual leader. I never got to hear my dad pray; and that’s one thing I’ve always wondered: “What would my dad have sounded like if I ever heard him pray?”
Michelle: Today, we’re going to talk about overcoming spiritual poverty in some unique and surprising ways. Oh, and get your coffee cup ready—you’ll want it—on this edition of FamilyLife This Week. Stay tuned.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Have you ever stopped to consider the people who God is using to share His Word with others? You know, some of these people have pasts. Well, actually, everyone has a past—I have a past and so do you—but when God looks at us, He sees what He’s done; and He sees what He’s going to do through us. It’s amazing when you stop and think about it; right?!
You remember my friend, Tracy Lane/her little daughter, Annie, who has a heart condition? Well, Tracy shared with me earlier this week how thrilling it is to live the life that God has given her to live. And it’s been tough at times.
You know, this got me to thinking about a man in the Bible, whom we all know, who basically, in some respects, wrote half of the New Testament. He was a man who built up the church; but before that, he did some other things. He was a persecutor of the church, and that made him an accessory to murder; and that’s quite a past! Dennis Rainey recently spoke to a group of men; and he shared with them the story of this Hebrew of Hebrews from the line of Benjamin—Saul of Tarsus.
Dennis: You know what Saul did for a living? He held the jackets of the guys who stoned some of Christ’s disciples, and one day Saul met Jesus Christ; He invaded his life, and Saul became Paul. He took a broken guy, who had helped with the murder of Christians. You know, he could never erase that image from his life! Jesus Christ gave him a mission, a purpose, a reason to live.
I want to tell you something, guys—there is nothing you have done/nothing you have done that can keep Almighty God from loving you, from redeeming you, and giving you, not only a spiritual address, but also a spiritual finish line for you to complete as you finish your life in here or as you finish your life out there. There’s your spiritual address as a man!
Paul said this—this is the guy who was the accomplice—he said [Philippians 3:14-14]: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind…” Guys, I want you to hear me. There is an accuser/an accuser who wants to remind you of what you’ve done wrong. He wants to whisper in your ear, “You can never be used by God.” That is a lie! [Applause]
Can you change what lies behind?—no. Can you learn from what lies behind?—of course, you can. Paul said, “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,”—listen to what he said/he said—“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Guys, the game is not over. It may be half-time; it may be the third quarter; you may feel like you’re in the two-minute warning; but the question is, “Will you redeem the opportunity to make a huge impact?”
You see, guys, I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts when, suddenly, I realized I had better come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions I still can’t answer to the reality of answers that I cannot escape; and it’s a great relief. Amen. [Applause]
Michelle: That was Dennis sharing a message with the men at Wrightsville Prison. He gave them a charge to move forward—to become true men of God/to lead their families well—but most importantly, to not be defined by their past. After all, God doesn’t define us by the past.
I want you to hear from some of the men who were influenced by Dennis and his passion for biblical manhood. We took our microphone into the prison to talk with these men and to hear some of their stories.
Cory: My name is Cory. I’ve been incarcerated for three-and-a half years. It was nice to see that there are other men that struggle with the same exact things that I do on a daily basis. We have a gentleman in our group, who is not incarcerated, and a lot of the things that he shared were things that I struggle with on a daily basis. To see him, out there with a family/with children—to see him, going through these same struggles, to see these men come in here and share with us—and then, also with the men in my group, who are incarcerated, to see these similar struggles—but on top of that, teaching us how to deal with these struggles and how to cope with them/how to get out of this bondage. It’s nice to see that I’m not in this fight alone. [Applause]
Daniel: My name is Daniel Button. I’ve been here a little less than five years. I was really hard on my wife and my kids. What I didn’t realize, until I got into this, was I was expecting my wife and my children to fill a hole that only God could fill. When they couldn’t do it, I abandoned them; and I went chasing other things to try to fill that emptiness. See, they were never meant to fill that hole; but I expected them to, because I didn’t understand love; I didn’t understand God. I just understood that I was empty; I needed something.
I was looking for something to make me feel better about myself, and I learned that only God can do that. Something else that I’ve noticed—I tell people here at this unit a lot more about how much I miss and love my children than I told them when I was with them. I need to fix that; that’s what I’m going to work on. Thank y’all for giving me the opportunity to do this. I appreciate it. [Applause]
Michelle: You know, those men have gained freedom. They may be incarcerated, physically, but there’s freedom in Christ. That’s really good news.
Hey! I think I smell some coffee. Do you smell it? Well, okay, since I smell it, you’re going to have to give me two minutes so that I can get a little bit of caffeine. When I come back, I’m going to talk with a man who, like Dennis Rainey, is helping men realize their potential, post-incarceration. Pete Leonard joins me in the studio next. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Before the break, we heard a couple of men share what God is doing in their lives. Today, I am joined by Pete Leonard, who has a soft spot for men and women who are/who have been in the prison system. Pete, when you heard a few of those stories, what was going through your mind?
Pete: Oh, that’s very powerful. That was hearing from men who are still in.
Pete: I get to hear stories from men and women who are now out. It’s stunning to me what God can do, regardless of our circumstances and regardless of our past.
Pete: As you said, we all have a past.
Pete: Some of us should be incarcerated for the things that we did; we just weren’t. But it doesn’t matter; it’s breaking God’s Law that’s the issue.
Hearing stories like that, of what God is doing in the hearts of men, which is fantastic—
Pete: —is so encouraging that work is going on inside prisons. I know it is, because I know people who are doing that.
Michelle: Yes, yes.
Pete: Then to see what can happen when they get out and are given a chance to do something different to show that what happened to them in prison—learning about Christ, becoming a believer, professing to follow Him—can be carried out in public. That’s a huge challenge. Life is different outside.
Michelle: Oh, I’m sure!
Pete: The struggle that they have doing that needs a lot of help from me/from the church to make it happen.
Michelle: And you are providing some of that help. Pete Leonard is the founder and roast-manager of Second Chance Coffee Company, or is it the Second Chance Company?
Pete: It’s the Second Chance Coffee Company is how we’re incorporated.
Pete: Our brand is: I Have a Bean.
Michelle: I Have a Bean?
Pete: I Have a Bean.
Michelle: Very unique name!
Pete: It sounds like—
Michelle: Very fun name!
Pete: —it is a fun name, and it links right with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Michelle: Okay, so your company is a little bit different than most coffee companies.
Pete: Yes, probably a lot different. [Laughter]
Michelle: Okay, a lot different. Setting up the business: “Why hire men and women who have just come out of prison?”
Pete: Right; other people ask the question this way: “Are you crazy?!” [Laughter]
Michelle: Well, I wasn’t going to say that! I know you, and I know you aren’t crazy.
Pete: At least, I don’t look crazy! [Laughter]
Okay, so I used a phrase earlier, where I talked about: “Unfortunately, society views people”—I used to be one of those people in society, viewing people, who had a felony conviction as being in the bottom one percent—
Pete: —“a throwaway, a ‘Forget about it,’ a ‘too bad/so sad’ kind of guy: ‘You did it! You’re responsible for the consequences, and that doesn’t affect me.’”
Well, that was until a relative of mine went to prison. I watched what happened to his life when he got out of prison.
Michelle: And all of a sudden, it touched you.
Pete: It touched me; and at first, I was thinking: “That’s really sad,” and “It’s wrong,” and “Somebody should do something about that; somebody should do something about that.” That persisted for a few months. I started having breakfast with a friend of mine, and it became clear that it wasn’t “somebody” who should do something about that; that was me who should do something about that.
Michelle: Well, tell me about one of your first employees. I’d like to hear that story.
Pete: There are two that I want to talk about. One, my very first employee—his name is James Short. Now, if he use his nickname, it’s Jim Short. [Laughter] I know! I didn’t realize that until just a few years ago, believe it or not. [Laughter]
Michelle: Great nickname! [Laughter]
Pete: Yes! Anyway, James was a drug dealer in Chicago—not a stand-on-the-corner drug dealer—he calls himself a “high-price drug dealer.” People would call him or page him, and he would deliver/personally deliver to high rises, condos, and things in Chicago——he’s not one of the guys standing on the corner—[he was] making big dollars. He got caught, and I don’t remember how. He ended up in prison and spent nine or ten years in prison—got out. What he realized he had was a passion and a talent for auto mechanics, believe it or not. It was tough for him to find work because of his conviction.
When we first started, we roasted a whopping 30 pounds of coffee a month; okay? [Laughter]
Michelle: It was a slow start!
Pete: Wow; was it slow. James would come in one day a week, and we would roast coffee in the morning on Friday. And then, Friday afternoon, we’d hold Coffee 101 class, where I would try to teach James the little that I knew about coffee and coffee roasting. We discovered things together.
Fast forward a year later: James is working every day of the week; we’re roasting coffee every day of the week. He has an opportunity to go work for a local energy company, on their trucks. We sent him off with great fanfare, and joy, and enthusiasm; he gets to do what he’s been given talent to do by God.
Lewis’s story is like this. I’ll give you the very condensed version. Lewis grew up in a neighborhood that told young men: “You are not a man until you’ve been to prison. You get no respect until you’ve been to prison.” And they made sure you didn’t get it until you went to prison.
Pete: So Lewis’s dream, growing up, was, “How do I get to prison?” He did everything he could to make sure that happened: he was into drugs and drug dealing, and guns, stealing, and shooting. The thing that got him into prison, finally, he ended up shooting a young man so many times that they couldn’t even count the bullet holes in the kid that he shot.
Pete: Now the kid did not die; if he had, Lewis would have been executed. The kid did not die; Lewis went to prison. Lewis was sentenced to three life terms, plus 100 years, while he was there. He sat down, and he was like, “I wish I had a gun, so I could kill myself; because I don’t want to be here the rest of my life.” Then his second thought was, “And I don’t want to be beholden to anybody either.”
Well, about that time, somebody walked up in an orange jumpsuit, and put a copy paper box at his feet on the floor; didn’t say a word—it was covered—just turned around and walked away with a smile on their face. Lewis looked down at that box, and he watched that guy walk away. He says he used his toe and kicked the lid off that thing. In that box was: underwear, clean/new socks, comb, Skittles®. I guess, in prison, Skittles are like gold!
Michelle: I’m sure they would be.
Pete: You can trade them for anything apparently—[Laughter]—I can’t relate to that—but [also] a toothbrush, toothpaste—all of those things.
Pete: Lewis looked at that stuff in the box, and what he said is, “When I saw that, I knew I had to kill that guy.” I looked at Lewis, and I said, “What?!” Because I would’ve been thinking, “Thanks!”
Pete: And he’s thinking, “Nope! What I saw in that box was a gift I could not repay, and what I knew he was trying to do me was get me in debt to him.” He determined in his heart that night he was going to kill that guy. He got his hands ready in this kind of choke-hold look. He turned and jumped through the sheet/pushed it aside, and he was ready to lunge at this guy. He stopped halfway through; because in the room wasn’t just this guy—there were two other guys—they were sitting around a little lamp, reading the Bible. They kept on reading; they didn’t even look up. They just kept on reading this passage in Matthew, I think.
When they stopped, this guy that he was intending to kill, just kind of looks up at him, and gives him a sideways glance, and says, “Lewis, do you believe in Jesus?” Lewis was like, “No, man! I believe in evolution,”—[Laughter]—that’s what he has told me he said. He is still standing there, with his hands ready to strangle this guy; but he didn’t know what to do. The guy reached in the back of his Bible, pulled out a tract. It had the Four Spiritual Laws—I think it was a Four Spiritual Laws—in it, at the back of it, was the prayer of salvation. He handed it to Lewis/said, “Read that, and let’s talk tomorrow.”
Lewis says he took it with one hand, with his other hand still in the “I’m going to kill you,” clamp/ death clamp”; right?
Pete: He took that; and he backed up out of the room, ashamed of the fact that he couldn’t carry through with what he had planned. He walked back to his bunk; he sat down on it; and opened up that tract, and read it front to back. What he said is, “In that tract was a phrase.” I’ll paraphrase this a little bit—something to do with having a clean slate—that’s something that Christ could do for you: “Give you a clean slate.” He said, “That’s what I need—is a clean slate”; so he prayed the prayer in the back—the prayer of salvation that was written there. Then he added this at the end, “But God, if You ain’t real, I ain’t following You. You gotta prove to me that You’re real. The minute you prove to me You ain’t real, we’re done/I’m done with You.” Then he laid down on his bunk and went to sleep.
He woke up; the warden walked over and said, “Okay, I’ve got your cell assignment.” He assigned him to a room. He walked him into a cell; and he said, “Staring at me was the biggest baddest-looking guy I have ever seen; scared me to death!” I thought, “This guy’s going to snap me in half like a twig.” The warden introduced him, and the [warden] left. This guy, all of a sudden, got this big smile on his face. He stuck out this big hand of a hand and shook Lewis’s hand. He said, “Lewis! Welcome to my cell!” He opened up a drawer in a little nightstand that he had; and he said, “Here’s your Bible,” and handed him a Gideon New Testament.
They started—[choked up with tears]—when I tell this story, I just picture myself in that room with Lewis. The care that somebody in prison, who is incarcerated, who is there with a life sentence—and Lewis, three life sentences plus 100 years!—they start discipling each other. Lewis had such a life change in that prison, because of what God did, that he was let go in 15-and-a-half years.
Pete: The parole board came to the prison and said, “We’re letting Lewis out.” They told that to the warden. The warden came to Lewis and said, ‘Lewis”—now this is how long this stuff takes—“in three-and-a-half years, you’re getting out.” Lewis was like, “Don’t mess with me! [Laughter] Don’t mess with me!” He thought he was getting a joke played on him. The warden said, “No, it’s real; it’s gonna happen.” “Okay; we’ll see!” Three-and-a-half years later, Lewis is released from prison.
I met him four months after that. This is where Lewis is in his journey: after coming to I Have a Bean and roasting for me for a year, he came to me and said, “Pete, I hate coffee. I love you; I love this company. Can I be in sales?” “Well, okay!” Then we put Lewis on the street, selling coffee. He came to me, after doing this for two years—or maybe two-and-a-half—he said, “Pete, I hate coffee. I love you; I love this company, but God’s calling me to the next thing.” Today, Lewis is the head of Set Free Prison Ministries in Illinois—
Pete: —doing Bible studies, back in the prison system. He’s married—got kids, got a house—and all that stuff. He is a great friend/a true man of God.
Just because somebody’s in trouble right now does not mean that they aren’t going to be the next Paul from Saul. Lewis is that person, and I have got 40 more stories like that—
Michelle: —like that.
Pete: —of people that we work with.
Michelle: That’s incredible.
Pete: It’s stunning!
Michelle: And to hear Lewis’s story—the transformation. You just mentioned Paul. That’s where my mind was going the entire time you were sharing that story—was Paul—and just how God grabbed him and was like, “You’re My man, and this is what I’m going to do with you. I’m going to let My light shine through you.”
Pete: “I’ve got plans for you.”
Michelle: “I’ve got plans for you.”
Michelle: That’s incredible!
Pete: Yes, and what does it take? It takes people—it takes the church, frankly—letting God do that work. If we really believe in redemption, then we need to be the ones, being God’s hands and feet, making that happen. That’s why I do what I do. I love coffee, and I love seeing God transform people’s lives; this is the thing I get to do!
Michelle: That’s exciting. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Pete.
Pete: Oh, you’re quite welcome.
Michelle: This has been a delight, and I’m so excited to try some of this coffee.
Pete: See, I know/I smell it over there.
Michelle: I’ve heard it’s really, really good! [Laughter] Thank you very much.
Pete: You’re welcome.
Michelle: How would you react if someone killed a person you loved? Would it be anger?—maybe anguish—perhaps even hate. Next week, we’ll take a journey with Anthony Thompson. His wife was one of the nine killed in the Charleston church shooting five years ago. We’re going to hear his story next week on FamilyLife This Week. I hope you can join us for that; it will be an impactful half-hour.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Justin Adams. Thanks to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is pulling double duty; he’s also our mastering engineer. Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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