Prison Fellowship Leaders Past and Present: Advocates of Hope and Peace

There is a large army of Christians fighting to give hope through the gospel to those in and getting out of Los Angeles prisons.

Earlier this week, we pointed to a Prison Fellowship article about a man whose life of gangs, drugs, and violence was transformed in the process of accepting Jesus while in prison.

Among the responses Together LA received as the result of recommending the article was one from Marty Angelo, someone who was mentored by Chuck Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship. Angelo, who leads an outreach ministry to prisons/jails, substance abuse recovery programs, and troubled celebrities, wanted to compliment the work of Together LA and share his own story about his relationship with Prison Fellowship.

His own transformation is quite dramatic when you consider that Angelo describes himself as being transformed “from a left-wing, ’60s, radical, liberal, drugged, hippie Democrat to an on-fire Christian Conservative.

In a memorial tribute piece about Colson (1931-2012), “How Jesus Christ Used Charles W. ‘Chuck’ Colson to Inspire Me,” he writes:

Chuck Colson was once considered Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” and his special legal counsel, so how in the world would someone like me ever get to meet a high-caliber politician like him… leave alone turn out to actually like the guy?

Well, we met because we both got arrested and went to prison. In both of our lives we praised God for allowing that to happen. By experiencing our “prison moments” we came to understand that God had a much different purpose for our lives then we could ever dream possible.

Colson taught me that we both experienced in our own ways the long arm of God. We learned first-hand that prison is what God uses as a common denominator breaking down social and political barriers proving He is God and not us. Chuck also taught me that self-righteousness/pride is what stood in the way of our understanding that Jesus Christ is in control… not us.

Prison has the potential of bringing one to his or her knees crying out to God for help and that happened to both Chuck Colson and myself at just about the same time in history… over 30 years ago.

In another part of his Colson memorial tribute article, Angelo writes:

Who knows what God is going to do with us once He comes into our lives? One thing I know for sure is that I am grateful that Colson didn’t turn his back on prisoners, ex-prisoners or their families. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for Chuck’s commitment and drive to spread the message that Christ has a better way.

Only Jesus Christ could have changed Chuck Colson’s heart as He did my own. We were both considered brothers and it took Jesus to miraculously make that happen.

Chuck Colson never hid for one minute the Christ that lived in him. He became one of my first Christian role models from the moment I met him.

Colson became known in our nation’s prisons… in prisoner lingo, as “the real deal.” He never forgot where he came from. It wasn’t the White House that changed Charles W. Colson… it was facing the Big House… pouring out his heart to Jesus Christ while sitting in his car in a driveway facing an unknown future in prison.

READ FULL POST HERE: “How Jesus Christ Used Charles W. ‘Chuck’ Colson to Inspire Me”

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I wanted to point out one more article in regards to Prison Fellowship because the community of Christians within prison ministry in Los Angeles is larger than we might expect. If you throw in addiction recovery ministries (because the two are often inter-related), then we can begin to realize that there’s a lot of inter-connectivity. We are all better together.

World Magazine, in their current issue, features a piece on James Ackerman, who last year became the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship. World states that Ackerman was previously an executive at media companies including A&E Television Networks, British Sky Broadcasting, Documentary Channel, and Broadway Systems. World published edited excerpts of its Q&A in front of students at Patrick Henry College.

WORLD: And you have a lot of work, in part because of the theological background of U.S. prisons. Quakers and others thought prisoners in penitentiaries would sit and think about their crimes and become penitent. How has that worked out?

ACKERMAN: Not well. The population in American prisons has ballooned from approximately 440,000 men and women in prison 40 years ago, to 2.2 million men and women in federal and state prisons today. We are warehousing men and women.

WORLD: We have a higher percentage of people in prison than Russia or China has.

ACKERMAN: The United States represents just under 5 percent of the world’s population, but we house 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.

WORLD: I spent a night in a cell at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at the invitation of Warden Burl Cain, a member of your Prison Fellowship board. He encourages some of his inmates to get seminary degrees in prison and minister to others.

ACKERMAN: It’s his vision to get seminary programs launched in prisons all over the country. Long-termers and lifers become advocates of hope and peace.

READ FULL WORLD MAGAZINE ARTICLE HERE: FROM HOLLYWOOD TO PRISON REFORM

Finally, I’d like to add this from the Preface of the Life Recovery Bible:

The Bible is the greatest book on recovery ever written. It its pages we see God set out a plan for the recovery of his broken people and creation. We meet numerous individuals whose hurting lives are restored through the wisdom and power of God. We meet the God who is waiting with arms outstretched for all of us to turn back to him, seek after his will, and recover the wonderful life he has for each of us…

…Let us set out together on the journey toward healing and new found strength — not strength found within ourself, but strength found through trusting God and allowing him to direct our decisions and plans…

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