Is there Life after Angola?
Issue 7, Vol. 2
Angola is the Louisiana State Penitentiary that happens to be the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. Nearly 85% of the inmates will never be released. The state’s execution chamber is there. It was created for hardened criminals.
Almost two years ago, I met one of the few Angola alumni. His name is “Jerry.” “Jerry” was 57 years old at the time. He had gone to prison on three different occasions for a total of 27 years. During “Jerry’s” three incarcerations, he has spent some time in Angola. His last prison sentence was for 15 “flat” years (without parole). As of today, he has been out of prison for 6 years. When he last left prison, he decided he never wanted to go back. He knew the next time he wasn’t getting out. More importantly, while he was in prison he committed his life to Christ and he was committed to live a life pleasing to God.
Unfortunately, things got complicated as soon as he left the prison. He had decided not to go back to prison, but he did not yet know how to succeed outside of prison. He needed a place to stay, but where? Everyone he knew was either dead, in prison, or still living a life of crime. After bouncing around for a while, he finally found a place to stay. Then he began to look for a job. He had, however, three formidable strikes against him: 1) he was in his mid-50’s with little work experience; 2) he was three-time felon, and 3) at the time, he couldn’t read. He was able to find the occasional side job, painting or landscaping, but nothing permanent.
The lack of a steady paycheck led “Jerry” to look for work offshore. The first several employers that he spoke with were unhelpful. Eventually, an employer told him that if he got a TWIK card (Transportation Worker Identification Credential – necessary for an offshore job) he could have a job. “Jerry” went through the training, and spent $130.00 to get his credentials. However, the company never called, and he still had no job.
While “Jerry” was hunting for a job, he was trying to make other positive changes in his life. It was at this time that I met “Jerry” at the Men’s Bridge Bible Study. “Jerry” continued attending Men’s Bible Study and later began attending the New Hope Bible Study as well as its weekend service.
Over time, the positive influence of his new Christian friends was obvious. Some of his edge was gone. Now, if he felt he had been disrespected, he thought through his response instead of lashing out in anger. The way he spoke was different too. Now, he was much more careful to listen to others, and he was no longer swearing. This spring, he led his girlfriend to Christ, and this past April, they were baptized together.
During this time, “Jerry” was still trying to get a job. He decided that it would be a good idea to remove one of the big marks against him by learning how to read. He has now been meeting with a tutor for a year, and he can read at a 3rd grade level. He is making great progress!
Recently, a company heard “Jerry’s” story and decided to give him a chance. He has officially been hired to work offshore. In the many volunteer projects I have worked with “Jerry,” he has shown over and over again that he is a hard worker. Will “Jerry” be able to take advantage of this opportunity? If he were surrounded by good Christian men who would teach him the job and disciple him along the way – absolutely. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if some Christian businessmen would start businesses in some under resourced neighborhoods to hire men like “Jerry?”) But in the rough and tumble world of working on an offshore rig, he will continue to need our prayers.
The last two years of “Jerry’s” life proves that there can be a life after Angola. The power of the Holy Spirit has been actively at work in his life, but redeeming the life of a 59 year-old, three-time felon who cannot read is entirely different than that of a 19-year-old college student or a 9-year-old schoolboy. There is life AFTER Angola; it’s just much easier to have life BEFORE Angola. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Although we will continue to work with men like “Jerry,” one of New Hope’s main goals is to reach children long before Angola. We look forward to starting our tutoring ministry this year with over 25 students.
Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement