|Ministry at Angola Prison||
|By sblankenship | 30 Sep 2009|
In September 2009 Jimmy Lee had the opportunity to speak at the Ruth Graham and Friends Conference at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana. Below, he shares some of the highlights of the time spent there.
I was deeply moved to be a part of the conference at Angola Prison. It seemed that even when we first entered the property I could sense the presence of God in that place. There are about 5,000 inmates, most of whom are there for life sentences, and among those inmates there are about 300 who serve as pastors. It didn't feel like a prison to me. I was able to speak on three different occasions at three of the different camps, and the men were well-behaved. This experience was one of the most moving I have ever had.
The experience was so real and sobering as we were taken on the prison tour, which included death row. I had an opportunity to speak and pray with some of those on death row. We also went into the execution chamber and I was quite moved to see that area and to hear the compassion of Warden Cain. This man has done a miraculous job at the prison because he really believes in the dignity of mankind and that we all were created in the image of God.
The last session that Jimmy taught was about the faithfulness of God and the hope that we have in God. The place was full at this last session (probably 700 or 800 inmates), and everyone stood and sang Great is Thy Faithfulness. "It touched my heart to hear those guys who were behind prison walls, but who actually weren't behind walls; they were free, they were free in Christ." In spite of the fact that the inmates carry a lot of pain due to not being able to see their loved ones, their children and their wives, they have hope. "Of all the things about that prison, I would say that that the warden has been able, in a very difficult environment, to instill hope in people." Warden Cain recognizes that hope comes through the power of Jesus Christ.
In addition to the sessions taught by Jimmy Lee, there were several on addictions taught by Aleta Nichols, the Director for Living Free at James River Assembly in Ozark, Missouri and sessions on depression taught by Dr. Don Miles, author of the Living Free curriculum Understanding Depression.
The feedback received after the conference has indicated that it was one of the best conferences, if not the best conference, that the prisoners had ever had there, simply because the emphasis was on issues that affect their lives. Living Free deals with those issues. While at Angola Prison, Tex Reardon, executive director of Ruth Graham and Friends, and Jimmy Lee met with the chaplain and with Warden Cain. In all likelihood there will be the opportunity to have Living Free in that prison. To date, twenty-five facilitators have been trained, and plans are being made to train more. Jimmy and Tex hope to return to teach the Living Free Video Training to those who want to facilitate small groups. Jimmy stated, "That was what was communicated to me, so we are now making provisions for that to happen."