Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Light in the Darkness!

Whew...I need a break!  All these posts on man's justice system is giving me the willies.  I need to speak on something more positive and I have just the story to tell you.  I found a gem, amongst all the negativity in the prison and jail systems.  A bright light so strong, in the most unlikely of places.

Within the Texas women's prison system are several units that are scattered throughout the state.  Most are Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ") units, owned and operated by the state.  Others are contract units owned and operated by third parties.  My first stop when I left the Dallas County Jail was at Woodman in Gatesville, which is a State diagnostics unit for all those entering the system. While there we were basically warehoused while they collected medical data, IQ testing, educational level testing and gathering of family/social information on us.  I resided at Woodman for approximately five months where I first worked as a night janitor, working from 6 pm until 4 am, scrubbing showers, toilets, floors, walls, etc.  After about six weeks they moved me to the kitchen where I had various functions, eventually working my way up to the esteemed "cook" position.  My hours in the kitchen were from 1 am to 10 am.

Then one night (always after 10 pm) they said you will be transferred the next morning.  So I spent that night packing my very few belongings and going through the inventory process with an officer.  It takes most the night, then the usual breakfast is about 4:00 and a couple hours later we were handcuffed, thrown in a van and driven to the Hobby Unit in Marlin, Texas.  I was only there 5 weeks.  The Hobby Unit has the unique distinction of being the worst women's prison in the United States.  I will tell you about my 5 weeks there in a post all its own.  For now I want to focus on my most positive experience during those three years of incarceration.  Following the Hobby unit I was transferred to a contract prison in Lockhart, Texas which was owned and operated by a company called GEO Group, Inc. (traded on NYSE, a profitable business).  I just checked the stock, it is selling for $24.67 per share this morning and has the highest profit/earnings ratio in the industry. (Sorry, can't stop myself!  Once an accountant, always an accountant!)  They provide minimum security prison units to states.  I am pretty sure I know what corners they cut to get those profits.  I won't list those for you I promised ...this is a positive post!

The Lockhart unit is where I eventually found my way to the Faith Dorm.  We had to request this program, explain our reason for wanting it and then go through an interview process.   People who had a history of behavior problems (i.e. any rule violations) are not considered.  By the way, I called us "people", but we were not known as people, we were referred to as "Offenders" and that is how we were to announce our presence at locked doors, etc.  Anyway, I will continue to use the word "people" as that is what I believe we were (and are).  The Faith Dorm housed 50 women, two women per cell with a large day room.  You can see the picture of the women in the Faith Dorm.  I'm in there but I'm not telling you where as I did not have any makeup on.  You can see the doors behind the women, those were our cells and contained two metal beds (about 3' by 6'), a wall cabinet, a small table top and stool, a toilet and a sink.  Everything was attached to the walls and floor, they must have been afraid we would steal their stuff.

In the middle of this two story "dorm" was a day room.  It had all the tables and chairs for our meals and in the case of the Faith Dorm that  is where we sat for our program, taking notes at a rapid rate as the information we were receiving was the greatest message on earth.

The name of the organization providing the program is "God of Hope Ministries" and is based out of Austin.  The women lecturing us represented many denominations... Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists to name a few.  The program was very structured.  We received many books, including an amazing annotated study Bible.  Our devotional was "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young and there were more books to augment the study of the books in the Bible and bringing that message to our daily lives.  We studied both old testament and new testament and correlations between the two were made.   We had daily homework.  Our day started with breakfast about 4:30 am, then we do any chores.  Next was individual time used for daily devotionals.  Many people had several devotional books so they spent time in each.  We were told to study over the daily devotions and pray accordingly.  You could hear a pin drop during this time, the respect for each other and God was awesome.  We were all expected to keep daily journals of what came from daily devotionals and any other personal thoughts throughout the day, all of which was reviewed.  We were held accountable for all assignments and our journal. 

The structured program/speaker would typically start about 8:30 or 9:00  and would run to lunch time, with one hour for lunch, then resume at 1:00 and usually go to about 4:30.  At which time we had to prepare for dinner, do chores and start our assignments.  After dinner we had our assignments to work on and could otherwise attend prison-wide church services and Bible studies.  Many of us would study further into the night and then start again about breakfast time.  It was rigorous, I learned more about the Bible and its teachings than I had throughout all my years being raised in a church and attending church as an adult.  Remember in a prior blog I talked about pretending I was in a nunnery to get through some of the toughest days while at Dallas County Jail.  Well, you know what they say, your imagination becomes your reality.  It truly did, with this Faith Dorm.  At our meals we would have intellectual and heart-filled conversations about all we learned for the day and our various perspectives.  It seemed Jesus filled our every moment.  There was just no time for gossip or other trouble making activities.

And when we all sang it was always brought tears to my eyes.  The dorm was two stories and the acoustics were just God inspired.  I felt like I was in a different world, totally separate from the prison.  Our hearts were just lifted up to God. The speakers and program volunteers were respectful toward us and we were treated like intelligent human beings.  We were not treated like dirt as many of the officers were inclined to do.  When people are treated with respect, they tend to respond in the best way.  It created a learning environment equal to any university I ever attended.  And we were each very supportive of one another in our progress and learnings.  There was an occasional nasty remark among us, but it was confronted and resolved immediately.  If there was something that seemed irreconcilable, then it was brought to the program volunteers, nothing was left to fester, as part of the skills we were learning as we became stronger and stronger Christians.

I did not really see any rehabilitation happening among the women prisons.  But, with its intensity, this program was the key to changing its participants lives and beyond much of what is even offered in the free world .  And, how often do we have time for such a commitment in our busy lives in the free world, between work, family and friends.  While in this program, I came to believe this must have been how God made good the most difficult situation in my life, just like one of my favorite verses says: 

Romans 8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.

If you are interested in what I've I told you here, you can look further at their website  They are "A Bridge of Hope from Prison to New Life".  These are some of the best people I have ever met in my life.  I do miss them, although I have no desire to go back to prison.  I have thought long and hard about becoming involved in prison ministry for the remainder of my life as a result of this program.


  1. That is WONDERFUL, Audrey. I just shared it on Facebook, and hope all my FB friends read it!

  2. Oh, Audrey! If only every prison would make this God of Hope ministry program a requirement for each inmate...what a difference it could make in countless lives. I've always been amazed by your strength and resilience. You have such a way of turning any situation into a positive, life-affirming experience. You are my hero! This post brought tears to my eyes!

  3. If it was a requirement, I am not so sure it would have the same effect. Just like mandatory drug rehabilitation...If someone does not want it, is not ready for it, then it will not take hold. The way it is done, it honors the free will that God gives us. And, as my favorite pastor, Sam Carmack, says: really we have only one choice in that free choose Jesus Christ or not. All our actions then follow. I do think they could make more of these faith dorms available, but to be honest, many of the prisoners prefer a more charismatic approach, or so I've been told time and again in their critiqueing of my choice. Those types of services typically last one or two hours, then everybody is exhausted....I am not sure a full time program of that type could be sustained. Although, I could be very wrong...let's hope there can be a growth of these faith dorms and a variety offered that would touch everyone who really wants it. The core of this program is day-in, day-out study of the Bible...and our hunger for it just seemed to grow each day...better than the best suspense novel a person could find.

    Hero? Oh Christi, that's hardly me. Looking for the best way to get through any situation, that is something I do...I know you would do the same. The human spirit is so resilient...we learn that by watching our children, for sure...sometimes as adults we forget and get rigid...stuck on resentment or some other form of fear. As if letting go, some how is a form of giving up (losing) when in reality, letting go, is the most freeing thing we can do.

  4. Audrey, SO true. The more I parent, the more I realize that no matter what my influence, my boys have a mind of their own. I tell them, "You can't ride piggyback to heaven." What I mean by this is that at the end of the day, it's up to them to decide. You are so right...God does give up free will. The choice to love is what makes it that more beautiful. We choose.

  5. I agree. I once heard a great speaker, a man who is a child therapist, say the best we could ever hope for is to be a positive influence on our kids, we do not control them. He went on to talk about making certain that we create the memories that we want to leave with them, for that is really all we leave on this earth. I see the pictures of you and your beautiful family and their happy, loving faces, and I know that is just what you are doing. You are so right, it is choice that makes it so sweet.

  6. I know for sure the truth will win..Keep on going tough are really vey bold