Gateway Church’s Prison Campuses Help Inmates See Themselves Through God’s Eyes

My first night in a Tarrant County jail, I sat on my bunk overwhelmed with fear. I didn’t know anyone who had ever been arrested or incarcerated, so I had no idea what to expect. I kept thinking about my kids, ages 18 months, 4 and 6, whom I had kissed with a gut-wrenching goodbye. In 21 days I would be transferred to a state prison to begin serving a two-year sentence for a crime I had committed several years before. I had decided to turn myself in after I started living a Christian life because I wanted to take responsibility for what I had done.

As that night crept along, I remained cautious and aware of my surroundings. Soon I noticed a group of inmates huddling in the corner of the dorm we shared. From what I had seen in the movies, I imagined they might be planning a hit on somebody, so I watched them closely and stayed alert. Then they did something that shocked me. They gripped hands, bowed their heads, and started to pray. They called it their prayer circle, where they prayed daily for each other and their families. I asked if I could join them and they welcomed me in. In that moment, I realized the way to show my faith was by helping the guys in my dorm. I helped some learn to read and write letters to their children.

At the prison, I had friends who were serving much longer sentences than I was, but they too would eventually be released. I wondered how they would fare and cope when they returned to a changed society and strained family relationships and had to interact with people with commonly held biases toward offenders. This weighed heavily on me, and I wanted to do more for them.

After my release I started G3 Prison Ministries to prepare inmates for re-entry into society. I always say, “Today’s offender is tomorrow’s neighbor.” Why wouldn’t we want to teach them how to be better husbands, fathers and sons so they return to their families and communities different from when they went in? In partnership with Gateway Church, we made nearly 495,000 connections with inmates from 2010 to 2018 through faith-based programs and outreach initiatives.

In November, Gateway took it a step further and planted a church inside the Coffield Unit, a maximum-security prison in Anderson County. Every week, 500 men attend and serve during worship services at our Coffield Campus as well as the Sanders Estes prison in Venus, with Gateway staff and volunteers serving and worshiping alongside them.

We’re in prisons every week building relationships with men who are broken, forgotten and condemned. We teach them how to see themselves for who they can be and not what they’ve done so they become leaders in their communities once they’re released. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s fiscal 2018 Statistical Report, more than 134,000 men and women are currently serving time in Texas prisons, which presents us with a tremendous opportunity to change lives and communities.

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SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News, Stephen Wilson

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