For many years, we have been involved in a teen program called Scared Straight. The idea was that we could take a teenager who was obviously headed for a life of crime and let them see what it would be like to be incarcerated. Several ex-cons and prisoners have been involved in this very successful program. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put it on temporary hold.
The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas has just released data on COVID-19 in Texas prisons. COVID-19 took the lives of 231 prison inmates and staff during 2020. Nine who had been approved for parole died before they could be released. Positive tests for COVID-19 among prisoners was 490% higher than among the Texas general public. Prisoners taking our correspondence courses tell us about over-crowding and conditions such as lack of masks, hand washing, and sanitation, making them more susceptible to the virus.
It is important to note that these numbers are for state prisons and do not include federal prisons or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Those of us who go into prisons to present programs, teach classes, or meet with inmates look forward to the time when we can resume. To keep young people out of prisons, we need to reinstate programs like Scared Straight. Jesus commanded people who help those who are in prison. (See Matthew 25:36)
We have been working with incarcerated men and women since 1960. Building a prison ministry is a challenge, but it is much needed. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a prisoner say to me, “My life is over; nothing matters anymore.” This is especially true of black men and women in prison.
As we said yesterday, one of the heroes of prison ministries is a man named Buck Griffith. He has been responsible for the conversion of literally thousands of prisoners. Not only has Buck done one-on-one work in the prisons, but he also started a program to help people with drug problems. The program called NewLife Behavior Ministries features Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA) and provides psychological help and support for prisoners.
There is a desperate need for Christians to get involved in helping families and individuals whose lives have been upended. To help individuals and churches in building a prison ministry, Buck has released a book titled Loosed and Forgiven. This 158-page book has 12 chapters. The titles of the chapters tell you about its content: Chapter 1 – Getting Started Chapter 2 – A Planned Approach Chapter 3 – A Few Things About Crime Chapter 4 – Materials and Tools Chapter 5 – Wardens and Chaplains Chapter 6 – Ministering to Females (1) Chapter 7 – Ministering to females (2) Chapter 8 – Addiction Recovery Chapter 12 – Funding the Ministry Chapter 9 – Follow Up on Those Released Chapter 10 – Sex Offenders Chapter 11 – Writing to Prisoners
Prison ministry can be frustrating, and you should not underestimate Satan’s influence. When Satan has had his way with a man or woman, helping that person change life-course is an incredibly rewarding ministry. Buck Griffith has opened the door to building a prison ministry with this book. Congregations or individuals who want to help meet a great need can use it as a guide to get involved.
The New Life Behavior Ministry website is: nlbm.org
For over 50 years, this ministry has been working in prisons throughout the United States. Prison ministries fill a vital need. Our prison ministry began in the 1960s when I first became a Christian. I went back to share my new-found faith with atheists and skeptics that I had known in my atheist days. I found that a disproportionate number of my old atheist cronies were in prison for one thing or another. As we corresponded, they told me that a large number of their fellow inmates had faith questions.
We wrote our first correspondence course with the goal of helping prisoners regain their faith and start on a road to newness. Humans can justify almost any behavior if they don’t have a functional moral standard to guide their decisions. If they have no faith in the teachings of the Bible, then “survival of the fittest” becomes their standard. Prison ministries fill a vital need.
A control struggle goes on in prisons everywhere, with gangs in almost every prison. Continued dependence on drugs is what has overfilled our penal system. We design our courses to show any open-minded reader that there is a God and that the Bible is His Word. We want to show them that they can depend on Jesus Christ to help them overcome drugs, gangs, and life in the prison system.
We have a very small effort with just over 4,000 students taking our courses, but we are blessed to have a relationship with the Kings Crossing Prison Ministry in Corpus Christi, Texas. Buck Giffith oversees the massive program of Kings Crossing, which has programs to help prisoners overcome drugs. They have basic courses to help prisoners renew their faith, and they visit prisoners in many states.
Prisoners frequently request to be baptized to wash away their past with the sins that got them into prison so they can begin a new life. There are now 410 permanent or portable baptistries in prisons in 37 states and 39 foreign nations. This has resulted in over 15,000 baptisms annually. As prisoners begin their new life, they are put into study programs and receive remedial help as it is needed.
It is one thing to bemoan the fact that the United States leads the world in the number of people incarcerated. It is another thing to do something about it through prison ministries. You can find more about the Kings Crossing program and how to contact them on their website: kingscrossingprisonministries.org
I sometimes get a heated letter, email, or phone call chastising me for advocating something that isn’t possible or safe. I can understand the concerns, and yet it is hard to miss the clear teaching of Matthew 25:35-40. How can we do we what Jesus told us to do? The fact is that it is safer and easier to do those things today than when Jesus spoke these words. The examples of the first century Church in Acts 2:44-47, of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-39, and of Lydia in Acts 16:13-15 give us clues as to how we can be doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25.
HUNGERED AND YOU GAVE ME MEAT. Every major city in America has a food bank, operated by Christians, that needs volunteers and donations.
THIRSTY AND YOU GAVE ME DRINK. There are Christian groups like “Healing Hands” drilling wells and putting in water purification systems in areas without clean water. They need help and donations.
A STRANGER AND YOU TOOK ME IN. Churches near major hospitals such as Hands of Compassion near the Mayo Clinic provide housing and help strangers–and they need support.
NAKED AND YOU CLOTHED ME. Programs like “Coats for Kids” are operated by churches in nearly every major city in America. Finding and distributing coats to needy people is always a work that needs help.
SICK AND YOU VISITED ME. Visitation programs to hospitals are operated by groups of Christians and local congregations in every hospital in America. Hospital chaplains can integrate workers into visitation programs.
IN PRISON AND YOU CAME TO ME. There are prison ministries in virtually every prison in America and national correspondence programs like ours that offer programs free of charge to anyone who is incarcerated.
I get frustrated with the fact that my mailbox is stuffed every day with requests for help in works like these. Then I think about the fact that Christians do what most people in this world won’t do, and that is doing what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25. If you can’t find any of these things close to where you live, we can help you find a national and/or local group where you can serve.
Today we are doing something different, but we feel this is an area of apologetics that needs attention. In this day and time, Christians getting involved in prison work is an excellent evidence of the existence of God. Atheists are not going to spend time and money helping prisoners restore their lives.
We have over 4,000 students in our “Does God Exist?” correspondence course, and a vast percentage of them are in prison. They tell of losing their faith in God and immersing themselves in activities that landed them in prison. They take our courses in the hope that their faith can be rekindled, and they can rebuild what is left of their lives.
One of the programs that has assisted us is the Kings Crossings Prison Ministries in Corpus Christi, Texas, directed by Buck Griffith. They have a program called “NewLife Behavior Ministries” and a study called Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA). Substance abuse is a major issue in America today, and many of our students have had substance abuse problems.
Buck Griffith has written a manual titled Loosed and Forgiven which describes how to start and grow a jail ministry. The manual has 151 pages, and it is the best resource we have seen on the mechanics of prison work. Helping prisoners restore their lives, and faith is a great way to demonstrate the love of Christ.
If you are interested in prison work, I recommend that you purchase Buck’s book. The cost is $14.95 plus shipping. For more information, contact NewLife Behavior Ministries, PO Box 270720, Corpus Christi, Texas 78427-0720. Their phone number is 361-855-3372, and their email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find more information on their website www.nlbm.org.
We hear it all the time, statements like “I can’t take much more.” “I can’t handle this!” “This is too much!” and “I can’t stand it!!” We all have expressions of frustration and exasperation, and in the middle of this current pandemic like all previous major problems, we hear some wild ones. “I’m going to blow my top,” “I’m going to pull my hair,” “I’m going to the lake and make a hole in it.” There is a theological issue involved here. If God exists, why does He allow things to happen that push us beyond what we can stand? Or does He provide a way out? I maintain that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is true.
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” -1 Corinthians 10:13.
Before going further, please do not interpret this discussion to trivialize anyone’s crisis. I just watched my daughter nurse her husband, the father of her three children, through six months of terminal cancer. She is now not only left with no husband and three boys to raise and also with no financial resources and her own health issues. My students in our correspondence courses who are in prison frequently say, “You can not imagine what it is like to be locked up in this hell hole.”
This Corinthian passage was written to Christians and offers unique help. One of the miseries that atheism produces is that it provides no hope of any kind when problems like this pandemic happen. When I was young and fit, I maintained that God was a crutch that I didn’t need. Very quickly, things happened to me that made me not so young or so fit. It wasn’t that I looked for a crutch because I continued to be a vocal atheist. But I was miserable in not always dominating others and getting my way. I was not able to overpower circumstances in life because I simply wasn’t fit.
First Corinthians 10:13 and similar passages don’t tell us that God will shield us from bad things. They don’t tell us that Christians will not face tragedy and frustration and even death. The passage says that God will “provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” That way out is rarely a miraculous zapping of whatever is afflicting us. It is usually God using Christians, His workers on Earth, to help us through it.
Read Matthew 25:31-40, and what do you see Jesus saying to His workers at the end of time? They were those who provided a way out for those in misery. The very nature of Christianity is to relieve the afflicted, and Jesus did that and taught His followers to do it. That is why Christians do the prison ministries, the correspondence course programs, our seniors outreaches, our food banks, our water well diggings, our hospitals, our schools, and many other things.
There are those times when the way out is death. I have lost a wife, a son-in-law, a brother, and dozens of dear friends who were in such pain that death was a blessing. I can only say that with confidence about those who died as Christians. The way out for me is coming, and it will be a blessing, not a curse.
One of the major efforts of this ministry is to provide educational materials and support for men and women in prison. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, both numerically and in the percentage of the nation’s population. For that reason, workers are greatly needed in prison ministry.
In 1962 John Clayton began working with men and women in the local jail, and then at the state prison in Michigan City, Indiana. Helen Richards had been doing work in prisons, and the two of them began teaching both classes such as mathematics, and Bible-study classes. It became very apparent that a high percentage of the prisoners had embraced atheist teachings. When convicts were brought into the prison to begin their period of incarceration, they would be asked about their religious affiliation. They would pick a denomination, or the clerk would do it for them. The reality was that a vast percentage of inmates had rejected God and the Bible as useful in directing their lives. We wanted our prison ministry to help those prisoners.
In 1968 John Clayton wrote a three lesson apologetic course to use in prisons. This quickly evolved into a 13 lesson course so that prisoners could complete a lesson once a week each quarter. This course was written at a 4th-grade reading level, and there was a question sheet at the end of each lesson. The number of students grew rapidly, and the course became a nationwide correspondence course. Ten years later, John developed a college-level course reaching inmates who want to learn more advanced material.
At the same time, Helen Richards built up a series of lessons that were straight Bible studies. Interest in this educational prison ministry was so great that additional help was needed, and more courses were added. We now have just under 4,000 students in our two apologetics courses, about half of whom are active. We have nine courses graded by other workers with a large number of lessons being graded by this team every month. We provide students who enroll with the lessons and answer sheets to fill out and return to us in postpaid return envelopes. They take one course at a time, and the nine studies we offer are broken down into four areas:
1) Basic Courses – Bible lessons in simple language written especially for people who need a beginner course. Most of our prisoners start with this course. 2) A Special Needs Course for those who need help with substance abuse. 3) Four general courses dealing with Christianity as taught in the Bible. 4) Two Advanced Courses with in-depth biblical studies.
In today’s world, prison ministries get very little attention. DOES GOD EXIST? has had prison work as a part of its program from the beginning. In 1968 we did our first program in a prison although I had previously worked in prisons in the South Bend area with a sister in Christ named Helen Richards. I worked in prisons and with teenagers because no one else wanted to do it. Even my background as an atheist didn’t seem to bother either one of those populations.
I have stayed involved with both youth and prison ministries for over 50 years now. The need for Christians to get involved with prison ministries continues to grow. Arrests for drug possession have increased to such an extent that the United States has the world’s largest population of people in prison. Why do most congregations have no active prison ministries and no interest in spending time and money to start one?
The answer to that question is quite complex. Many congregations lack interest because converting a prisoner doesn’t bring any numerical increase in attendance, finance, or solutions to problems. Frequently people who are in prison are not the easiest people to deal with. They are depressed, frustrated, suspicious, and in need. Many have experienced violence in one way or the other. In spite of that, the Bible is full of examples of how prisoners should be treated. You can’t read the New Testament without finding a reference to prison work. (See Hebrews 13:3, Philemon 10, Philippians 1: 12-14, Acts 16:22-40; 24:23, Matthew 25:39, 44-45).
You don’t find atheists, humanists, naturalists, or evolutionists doing much work in prisons. What I do find is that many of the 3800 students taking our apologetic course are prisoners. They are also people who had lost their faith in God and the Bible and were living a “survival of the fittest” belief system that didn’t work. Disillusioned with secular humanism, atheism, and naturalism there are many prisoners desperately wanting evidence to rekindle their faith in God. We have donated our DVD series to over 100 prisons throughout the country and have found huge acceptance to them among prisoners. We frequently do single session workshops in prisons and find that the prisoners are hungry to learn and anxious to build a working faith.
The big problem with many prisons is that gangs run the prison system. Prisoners are moved from prison to prison to break up the gangs, but in some prisons the gangs have control. Education is a primary tool for addressing this problem. It is vital that prisoners know where to find help, and our materials are available without cost. Kings Crossing Prison Ministries in Corpus Christi, Texas, has materials available to help anyone who wishes to make a difference in the lives of men and women who desperately want to return to living a life of faith.
New Life Behavior Ministries is a project of the Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas. For years we have worked with Buck Griffith and that ministry.
We refer prisoners completing our courses to them. Their team members visit the prisoners and provide personal needs and baptism if requested. We also refer prisoners with drug problems to their CASA study. CASA is an acronym for Christians Against Substance Abuse. This program has had a hugely beneficial effect on recidivism.
The New Life Behavior Ministries has begun a “Vet Net” program which offers special postage-paid courses (inside the United States) to veterans of all branches of the service and their family members–active or reserve. The top five courses in enrollment numbers are: Christian Marriage Skills
Attitudes and Behaviors
Christians Against Substance Abuse
Managing My Anger
The “Seeker” Bible Study Series
We would like to make our readers aware of this great program, especially those working with military families. Contact information is:
From the beginning of this ministry, we have been involved in working with individuals who are incarcerated. The toughest part of prison ministry is inescapable. It is dealing with children who are experiencing incredible pain because of the actions of their parents.
Ezekiel 18:20 makes it clear, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” Still, children who are not guilty of any wrongdoing suffer when a parent is put in jail. It is excruciating to be part of “visitation” at a prison as children cry out for love and attention and can’t understand the reason for an end to the visit that always comes way too soon.
This issue has far-reaching consequences for all of us. Dr. Molinda Chartrand who works with both military families and incarcerated people says, “Hitting, biting, and hyperactivity are much more frequent when a parent is deployed or incarcerated.” Very young children who have a parent absent from the home have a 5% higher incident rate of behavior problems than the general population. Older preschoolers have a 20% higher rate.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that an estimated 2 million children with one or both parents incarcerated face the greatest risk of perpetuating the cycle of crime. Nearly 50% of all state prison inmates have either another family member in prison or have a family member who has been in prison.
There is a huge need for Christians to get involved in efforts to help address this problem. God’s plan for the family is the only plan that works. When the family is disrupted for whatever reason, it is the children who suffer as much as anyone. The toughest part of prison ministry is ministering to the children of inmates.