Houston, Texas, August 22, 2010. After many months of working with Senior Warden Burl Cain at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, we have reached a landmark in Texas prison history. We are going to see a real Seminary Campus established inside one of our maximum security prisons. And that prison has just been named. It is Darrington Penitentiary, in Rosharon, Texas. Darrington Penitentiary is home to about 1800 inmates, ranging from their late teens to their 70’s. It’s a maximum security institution, with Senior Warden Brenda Chanel at the helm. And within months they will be the first Texas pentitentiary to have an accredited Seminary begin an extension campus with the razor wire and brick walls of the prison.
]The Heart of Texas Foundation has been asked to serve as the facilitator in bringing the first Seminary Bible College to Texas. Consequently we have been working closely with Senior Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, who began a landmark Seminary program over 10 years ago. Warden Cain has a liking for Texans, and offered Grove Norwood his help in creating a Seminary Bible College within a Texas Prison. Since April of 2010, Grove has been working with TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice), The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth and Houston, and the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention, as well as many Foundation supporters, to bring about this historic event. The Southwestern Seminary officials, including President Paige Patterson, Provost/Executive Vice President Dr. Craig Blaising, and Houston Campus Dean Dr. Denny Autrey, have agreed to support the new Campus with their full accredited curriculum. Their Professors will teach the 4-year classes within the program. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, led by Mr. Brad Livingston, will provide the security, staffing, and facilities to allow the voluntary Seminary program to be offered in their system. The Southern Baptist of Texas Convention, with Executive Director Dr. Jim Richards, and Chief Financial Officer Mr. Joe Davis, will provide funding assistance in the form of faculty compentation to the new Seminary. Private funding developed by The Heart of Texas Foundation supporters, will allow new computers, a theological library, and other initial expenses to be met.
It’s been a supersonic 3 weeks, and I’m good with speeds above the mach. Ignition at those velocities tends to blow the flame down into the belly, where it belongs.
We did go back to Angola, and then up to Ohio for the Out
4Life Conference sponsored by Chuck Colson’s organization, Prison Fellowship. I was a plenary speaker, and was honored to be able to meet and visit with Mark Early, former Senator of Virginia, and now the new President/CEO of Prison Fellowship, having said “yes” to Colson’s appeal for Mark to take the helm. I made lots of good contacts among wardens and volunteer organizations in prison ministry, and met Lorraine Whoberry, founder of Stacie Foundation. Lorraine will join me in some Texas events in July of this year, coming out to be with us from Cincinnati. She will share her testimony in women’s prisons with us.
From there I went to Washington, DC area– to Fairfax VA, . I spoke in prisons there, to men and women, and in two services in the Barcroft Bible Church. What a great church, and what great leadership— thoughtful enough to house me with a real, honest to goodness fighter pilot (F-15 Strike Eagle, no less), Milt Clary and his wonderful wife Karen. It was great to hear phrases I had not heard in years… we fighter pilots have really cool ways of expressing ourselves. It’s a language only we can understand. We do that for reasons we’re not sure of. But nevertheless, we pulled the chocks, spooled up and rotated into many FPR’s (“fighter pilot reveries”). Got to see old friends Joanna and Loran Ambs, and their precious daughter Elizabeth, just married. The Ambs used to live in Fulshear and were neighbors. Loran is a genius scientist who holds patents and a heart that loves the Lord Jesus Christ.
The next week it was into North Carolina Prisons with Scottie and Jack Barnes, founders of Forgiven Ministry. During about 5 days we were in 7 different prisons, speaking to hundreds of men, and teenagers in a prison where they were down to 14 years of age— and some of them doing life in prison. For the first time, I learned pastors must feel like when they preach to hearts of stone. Hard ground. Baked and crusty soil. I remembered my goal, to see them as sons, and that helped me love them as I spoke to their hardened, hurting hearts. The teens warmed up later, but were tragically seared shut as we started. It takes time to melt a heart, but God is in that business, too. That’s why he can have the furnace turned up 7-times hotter than normal.
Then it was back to Texas in a breathtaking dash from Charlotte, North Carolina to Houston to make an 8pm meeting in Houston at Second Baptist Church, being introduced by Senator Dan Patrick as I ran into the auditorium from the parking lot! Paul Koby managed to get me from the airport to the church in what seemed like ten minutes. Dan handed me the wireless mic and I was so out of breath I could not have whistled Dixie. The crowd enjoyed it as much as we did. Thank you Lord for helping me get home in time!
If you care enough to read this far, then know that I am thanking God for you as I write this. I thank Him that He has brought you to us, to learn more about what some simple, cow-town folks like us are doing to reach out to America’s most despised people. Before my first visit to a prison, I had no idea how hungry their hearts are to know that somebody can still love them– in spite of their terrible mistakes and their stupid choices. May God find a way to help these men, women, teenagers, and– yes, even young children–through you. Whether it is through your prayers for us and them, or in other ways, I thank God for bringing you to this page.
Cordially yours with Great Hope,
Today is Friday, and we’re hustling out here in the country to get ready for the trip, which begins tomorrow. About 20 men will be going with me to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Warden Burl Cain has extended his hospitality to
allow The Heart of Texas Foundation to coordinate this trip so that these men, all hand-picked by God, will be able to spend 3 days with the Warden, and to witness the Graduation of the Class of 2010, from the Angola Bible College. Here’s an email I sent out to a few of our supporters yesterday, and wanted to share with everyone– click on the links, turn your speakers on, and roll the volume up. Listen to Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and me as we talk about our joint effort; done in two separate interviews with Dallas Talk Show Host, Jim Wilson of KCBI!
Hi, Friends of the Foundation,
This is a recent interview with Dr. Paige Patterson, who is the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of America’s largest Seminaries, in Forth Worth. This was conducted about 5 weeks after I had meet with him and his executive faculty on April 1, and was held in Dr. Patterson’s office on the campus, by Jim Wilson, talk show host and newscaster, KCBI Radio, Dallas.Click on the link below to listen to the interview with Dr. Patterson. Turn your computer speakers on, of course, and volume up(I was interviewed by Jim this morning at 7:40, on KCBI, also. Jim is going to go to Angola with us, and will broadcast in a special arrangement, from inside the prison grounds while we are there. You can listen to our interview this morning by going to KCBI Interviews.
Thanks so much for your encouragement and support. Help us keep on helping those who cannot repay.
A lot is going on, and if you keep checking here, I will try to keep you posted as we head to Angola with this great team of men! The goal? To return to Texas with a total committment to waste no time in establishing a scholarly chain of Accredited, 4-year Bible Colleges in Texas Prisons, and begin the total moral rehabilitation of our incarcerated men, women, and teenagers. The answer lies in the human being’s “moral compass”— and it takes education and a true change of heart to swing the compass toward living a productive life, instead of a descructive life. Stay tuned, and thank you for your prayers and support! We continue to schedule prison and church events, and you can stay up to date on at our Travel Schedule.
The Cherry Tree Republicans Welcome Dan Patrick and “The Heart of Texas”
by Edith Gibson
Cherry Tree Republicans
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none”>The Cherry Tree Republicans’ monthly meeting for April was held Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at Wyndehaven Terrace on Cutten Road in Houston. After a brief business meeting, the attendees were privileged to view a screening of “The Heart of Texas – The Movie.” Executive Producer, Senator Dan Patrick, made a round-trip flight from Austin just to introduce the movie. A crowd of almost 200 attended this event that had advertised a special “mystery” guest to appear at the end of the movie to discuss what they had just seen. There had been a teaser that it could possibly be the Governor or Chuck Norris, both big fans of the movie. Since “The Heart of Texas” has been out for quite a while, it was interesting and exciting to find that when Senator Patrick asked for the hands of those who had NOT seen it, approximately 75% were about to see it for the first time.
For the next hour, the audience was intently and quietly focused on the 9×12-foot screen. After the movie, there was hardly a sound when Senator Patrick went to the podium to introduce the “mystery” guest. Although many people had guessed it would be Chuck Norris who lives up the road from Houston, when Grove Norwood (whose story was the subject of the movie) was introduced he was received with a standing ovation. There was tremendous excitement at who the “mystery” guest turned out to be. After cheers and applause, Grove was handed the microphone and stood in the center of the room (which for some events is the dance floor) and spoke of events surrounding the tragedy that was the devastating loss of his four-year old daughter, Joy. He shared this phenomenal and incredible story of friendship, loss, grief, faith and a forgiveness that most people have difficulty in understanding. “The Heart of Texas” is a true story that happened to a family in Fulshear, Texas – Grove Norwood’s family. Throughout his presentation, Grove’s voice was filled with conviction, with faith, with understanding and assurance, and with all the emotion and empathy you would expect from one who had lost a child
Not wanting to give away details for the few people who have not yet seen this movie, Grove spoke of how grief gave way to tender understanding and a forgiveness that is remarkable, and how this tragedy lead the path to what he is doing today. As this story spread and people sought him out to see if this really happened, he was asked if he would consider sharing it, and he said yes to Senator Patrick. He suggested that some in the audience might have personal stories of their own, and perhaps they were holding on to issues from which they need to forgive, let go and move on. You could tell by facial expressions and nods of heads of some that he was right. Grove encouraged everyone to embrace faith and hope and that would get them through anything.
Grove told of how he heard many times from people who had somehow and surprisingly seen “The Heart of Texas” while inmates in prisons and that the story encouraged and caused changes in their lives. The audience was told that today Grove Norwood has his own faith-based prison ministry and that, as President of The Heart of Texas Foundation, he takes this film to prisons around the state, and through the incredible story of the Norwood Family, lives are being changed. He takes the gospel to inmates and reminds them of God’s love for them and His forgiveness is waiting for even them if they will just ask for it.
As Cherry Tree Republicans are aware of the cost of food, gas, lodging, etc. in taking this message to the State prisons and Penitentiary in Texas, there was a desire to help in some way. Baskets were passed to the attendees for donations and they responded very generously and many heart-felt dollars were collected to help in this ministry. Grove and the three friends who accompanied him were surprised that this was done and amazed at the generosity. The Club is very proud of the way everyone stepped up.
Both Grove and Dan stayed for longer than I think they planned. Although a plane was waiting to take him back to Austin, Dan very graciously listened to concerns of some of his constituents and Grove listened intently to individuals who did have stories of their own, both posing for photo ops. He gave encouragement and passed his card for people to contact him personally. He even came up with a few volunteer recruits for The Heart of Texas Foundation!
I first met Grove Norwood several months before at another event at which he spoke, and as VP of Cherry Tree Republicans, I knew then that I wanted to have him share his story with us. I was extremely happy that he said yes to my request and very proud that Senator Dan Patrick was onboard to introduce him. For a few days before the meeting, it looked as if Dan wasn’t going to be able to come because of some last minute Senate committee meetings that were scheduled for the entire week. Words cannot express the gratitude for his efforts and going over and above to fly in and make it there just seconds before his introduction of Grove. Thank you, Grove and Dan, for making that night a memorable one for all of the attendees.
~ Edith Gibson
Vice-President, Cherry Tree Republicans
THE MEN BEHIND THE CURTAIN:
A DAY WITH DAD INSIDE STILES PRISON
A maximum security prison is a closed system, a world o
f tightly drawn curtains behind which are strict regulations and rigid procedures that do not exist in the “free world.” And rarely do we get a look into that world. But, over the second weekend of April, our prison ministry team from Simonton Community Church was given the privilege to join with North Carolina’s Forgiven Ministries at Stiles Prison in Beaumont, Texas. At this all-male, maximum security prison of 3000, we were offered a glimpse behind the curtain. The private world of that closed system was revealed. And what we saw was God at work.
The team of volunteers was made up of David Hanna, Jimmy Means, Jim Keeny, Paul Koby and Grove on Friday, and of Susan Strickland, Paula Means, LeaAnn Keeny on both Friday and Saturday. We were there for “A Day With God,” Forgiven Ministries’ program that unites children of inmates with their dads for a special day of games, crafts, prayer, food, and songs.
A Day With God is the initiative of Scottie Barnes, whose own father was absent from her life because of a pattern of criminal activity. Scottie knows, first hand, what life is like when one’s father is behind bars. She has dedicated her life to making sure that children of inmates have a chance to know their parents, to learn from the adults’ mistakes, and to have a meaningful relationship with them despite forced separation.
Scottie also insists that incarceration does not diminish the responsibility of a parent, and she spends much time reinforcing this point to inmates.
Over 5 million children in the United States have a parent in prison, and eighty-two percent of those children will end up in jail, or in what Scottie refers to as “the family business.”
Out of 3000 men in Stiles, only twelve of those prisoners who had applied a year ago were allowed to participate in the weekend program. Strict rules and behaviors are required for what is, clearly, a unique privilege for inmates under incarceration.
In a day-long session on Friday, volunteers taught the men skills for communicating and blessing their children, gave them opportunities to write out prayer requests, offered testimonies and advice, and enjoyed a few hours of open dialogue and camaraderie.
For the women on this trip, this was the first time in an all-male prison, and the aspects of maximum security were daunting, to say the least. The clank of iron gates that locked us in, cold barbed wire fences, intrusive metal detectors and pat downs, plus the ban on carrying anything but a driver’s license into or out of the institution reminded us of exactly where we were.
Prison is a hard place. Between the monotony of routine and the chronic threat of brutality integral to life behind its walls, inmates exist in survival mode. They have to learn how to make it from one day to the next. Only the intervention of God’s grace can cast a new light on prison life and, for a few hours on this April weekend, the inmates participating in A Day With God received a taste of that grace.
What we women on the team expected to see when we first walked into this maximum security prison is just what we saw. The men who are in Stiles are there because they committed offenses that warranted time in a maximum security prison. We expected criminals. And, when those twelve men walked into the prison chapel on Friday morning, criminals were what we saw.
But by the end of Friday, and especially by the end of Saturday, we no longer saw The Felons. We no longer saw the tattoos, the scars, the racial bitterness, the violent demeanor. Instead, we saw grown men who learned, for the first time in their lives, how to tie a necktie. And we watched them, in turn, teach the same lesson to their sons. We saw fathers, with tears in their eyes, slow dancing with their daughters. We watched adult males hoot and roughhouse with their children like innocent kids in a schoolyard as they played Tug-of-War and Pop-the-Balloon in the prison yard. For those brief moments, in those incarcerated dad’s faces, we saw Joy. Pure joy.
We also watched, in the quieter moments of the day, while fathers prayed with and blessed their children. Hovering over atlases, they planned dream vacations to take together. They crafted bead lampshades for lamps to comfort their children when they grew afraid at night. They ate pizza and colored pictures and scribbled scriptures and messages of love on each others’ t-shirts.
And, when the day was over and the fathers had to return to the reality of their prison life, we saw tears and embraces that will haunt our minds for a long time.
A Day With God gives prisoners something that is missing in their lives. It gives Hope. Inmates are given a sense of what it means to be a parent. They are given purpose. In turn, their children are given the gift of a father.
While each of us women on the trip came away with unique life lessons, we all saw that behind that curtained world at Stiles Prison, God is present and offering hope in what, to many on the outside, may seem like a place with no hope at all.
There are many prison ministries hard at work behind the walls. They are the result of church members being introduced to the opportunity. That’s one of our jobs, is to help other free-world people find their calling among the hurting.
he prison population is the most despised element of any society, and for understandable reasons. However, the God of the Bible loves even the hard to love. He loves the despised, for he was once despised by men, and still is. he loves the guilty, and loves them so much He came to earth to make a way for everyone to obtain a Full Pardon! Jesus Christ indeed came for one class of people: the guilty.
So it is because of their souls that we go. Want to see a little of what prison ministries look like? Here are some peeks inside prison work. It is rare that videos are allowed to be shot inside prisons, so when we find one, we put it here so that you may get a feel for some of the work going on! Our own videos of inner-prison work will be here in due time!
Post: This was an unbelievable experience. Pastors Hall, Spears, and I were invited to speak to the inmates in this well-fortified prison south of Houston. It’s a big place. They planned to show the documentary, “Heart of Texas” to a full chapel of inmates, and the allow us to speak following the film. We asked for strict secrecy: the inmates were not to be told we were coming!
The chapel was packed, we estimate about 350 men, all in dressed in their whites. As the film ended, all the men came to their feet, and many were wiping their eyes as the Chaplain, said something like, “We have some visitors now, who have come to speak to you. I won’t need to introduce them, as you will recognize them as they come in the back door.”
We walked in, and the standing crowd turned and burst into a welcome unlike anything any of us had ever experienced.
The skunk was on the table.
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