What Makes Us Different

              What Makes the Texas Field Ministers Program Different?

         This movement to train men and women with long-term prison sentences to serve their peers is unique in the history of prisons anywhere in the world. It is fair to ask, “What makes the Texas Field Ministers Program unique?”

Senator John Whitmire, Dean of the Texas Senate and Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee shares the uniqueness of the Texas Field Ministers Program.

The Texas Field Ministers Program Consists of Six Key Elements.

        Each of the six key elements described below, together, make the Texas Field Ministers Program unique.

L.E.T.L.A.P. = L
ifers,Equipped,Transferred,Live-in,Access,Peer to Peer

● L: Lifers and Long Sentences. Only “lifers” and inmates with extremely long sentences need apply to the Texas Field Ministers Program. We don’t want someone to earn his or her theological training and then leave the prison, when the prison desperately needs the word of God as do the inmates who live in it. We want men and women who will be Texas Field Ministers for the rest of their long sentences. What better option does a lifer have, who wants to build a new life and serve others, than to become a Field Minister while in prison?

●  E:  Equipped. A two-step process: 1.)We equip the lifers with 4.5 years of sound theological training through providing a fully scholarshipped education that leads to the Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies. This degree, conferred only through Scarborough College, is the only degree accepted as the qualification of the first step to becoming a Texas Field Minister. The Heart of Texas Foundation entirely funds this educational component. Without the Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from Scarborough College, no inmate can progress to the next step in his or her preparation to become a Texas Field Minister—the Texas Field Ministers Academy. 2.) The Heart of Texas Foundation’s Texas Field Ministers Academy helps a person with a long sentence transition successfully from his or her years as a full-time student to a full-time Texas Field Minister. Matters of integrity, real field experience, and successful dos and don’ts are all part of the Texas Field Ministers Academy. Upon successful completion of both steps, a man or woman will be able to voluntarily accept the job of Texas Field Minister.

●  T:  Transferred. When an inmate is appointed as a Field Minister, he or she is actually transferred by TDCJ to an outlying prison to begin service as a Field Minister. The new Field Ministers are placed in teams of two or more. With this transfer out, the new Field Minister’s entry into the mission field begins.

●  L:  Live-In. These Field Ministers, whatever their faith, take into their new prisons the education and training poured into them, and they take the gospel of Jesus Christ with them if they are Christians. And, unlike all Wardens, Chaplains, and all volunteers, the Field Ministers don’t “go home at night.” They are home! And they live in that large “village” around the clock, seven days a week. They don’t go on vacation. They don’t go home on the weekend. They live in their mission field, and most will die in that mission field. They are like any other missionaries anywhere in the world: they live with their people, they speak the same language, they dress like their people, and they indeed are culturally identical to their people. But Field Ministers take no furlough.

●  A:  Access.Field Ministers would be like any other inmates if they were not, by special permission, given access to all areas of the prison where inmates live, function, and go. While each Warden carefully monitors his or her own Field Ministers, TDCJ has officially sanctioned and encouraged Wardens to allow the Field Ministers to have access to any housing area a man or woman lives. This is where the “darkest of places” comes into view. The Field Ministers are allowed to have daily, and sometimes hourly, visits to places no volunteers can go. And Field Ministers can usually go to these places at any time of the day and also be called out during late hours of the night. Such areas include restricted housing (familiar to civilians as solitary confinement); inmates on Constant Direct Observation (CDO) for circumstances such as threat of suicide. The Field Ministers have a large impact on inmates who are totally separated from their peers because of their crimes or because they are known gang members. Field Ministers can bring comfort to inmates who are in the medical or hospice units. The Field Ministers are trained in how to preach sermons in the chapels, teach Bible studies, or counsel the grieving and depressed in their cell blocks. Such state-approved access for inmates such as Field Ministers exists nowhere in the United States. 

●  P:  Peer-to-Peer. Inside the culture of all prisons is the overwhelming influence that one inmate has over another. This peer influence is at the core of why prisons contain dark and violent cultures. That culture is usually founded upon intimidation, suspicion, retribution, extortion, violence, and hostility. The most influential inmates control every prison’s culture. And who are the inmates with the most peer influence? Typically it is those who have the longest sentences, the lifers, because they have committed the worst of crimes and have to do the longest time. They are instantly given “respect.” They are the “role models” for all the other inmates. They have the respect and the power. And of those with long sentences, the avowed gang members are the ones who bring fear into the hearts of other inmates. Their influence always sets the culture inside a prison. The prison’s culture is totally invisible to the outside visitor, to the staff, and to the volunteers. It underlies, controls, and directs all relationships inside the prison. It is not a culture of light. It is a culture of darkness. No warden, no chaplain, no volunteer can have the impact that a Field Minister has as a peer.


            Remove any one of these above, and the unique mixture of what makes the Field Ministers so effective is lost. At times, those who have seen the effectiveness of the Texas Field Ministers Program will attempt to replicate it in an “easier” way by reducing the length of the prison sentence requirements, reducing the length or standards of the education, not granting graduates the access they need to serve others, or focusing solely on education without service. Any attempt to reduce any one of the key elements in L.E.T.L.A.P. will not result in the same measure of impact seen in the Texas Field Ministers Program. It simply will not be the same thing. We believe that any attempt to replicate the Texas Field Ministers Program without the gospel of Jesus Christ will lose its impact entirely.

            Something impacted the culture of our prisons when the Texas Field Ministers arrived. The Texas Field Ministers brought new and positive “role-models” as scholar-mentors into the prison system. Inmates are stunned to find out that Field Ministers don’t intimidate; they don’t retaliate, can’t be bought, have markedly different countenances, and live their lives in total contrast to the gaming, deceit, and distrusting culture in the prison. They are not snitches; they are not spies for the warden. The Field Ministers are front-line spiritual responders, positive role-models that are unlike any the inmates have ever seen.[1]They bring into the prison a new kind of peer-influence because of the exemplary lives they live, in full view of every inmate.


[1]Kate Shellnut, “COVID–19 Shutdowns Are Shifting Seminary Education,”Christianity Today, April 23, 2020.

The Texas Field Ministers Program

Mission of The Heart of Texas Foundation:
We take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkest of places in our Texas prisons.

Vision of The Heart of Texas Foundation:

We provide the Texas Field Ministers Program as a service opportunity to long-term inmates in the Texas state prison system.

The Heart of Texas Foundation actively provides, as a no-cost service provider to TDCJ, the entire Texas Field Ministers Program and its ongoing development, integrity, and funding. 

The Texas Field Ministers Program includes two parts: 1.) training, 2.) service. 

1.) Training:
            a.) Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies. The Heart of Texas Foundation and The Texas Department of Criminal Justice recognize the Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from the Scarborough College for Men at the Darrington Prison Unit and the Scarborough College for Women at the Hobby Prison Unit as the only degree qualifying the completion of the first step in becoming a Texas Field Minister. 

            b.) Certification from The Heart of Texas Foundation Field Ministers Academy. As step two to becoming a Texas Field Minister in the Texas Field Ministers Program, inmate graduates from Scarborough College attend and must successfully complete the Texas Field Ministers Academy developed and hosted by The Heart of Texas Foundation in collaboration with The Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

2.) Service:
            The Texas Field Minister job opportunity provides men and women who have extremely long prison sentences the opportunity to display a new way of life by faithfully handling responsibilities that flourishing people enjoy to the benefit of themselves and everyone around them, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

a.) Qualification:  Maintain a G1, G2, or G3 custody level status while serving his or her peers through community, crisis, counseling, and faith-based ministries.

b.) Appointment: Remaining in good standing with the Field Ministers Advisory Council.

The Heart of Texas Foundation makes a lifelong commitment to men and women who enter the Texas Field Ministers Program and successfully keep their jobs as Field Ministers.

The Heart of Texas Foundation is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) charitable, non-profit Christian organization which accepts no state, federal, or tax-dollars of any kind from any agency or donor.

Give

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach
unless they are sent?”

(Romans 10:14-15, ESV)

No ministry can move forward without donors, givers, supporters.  Whatever they may be called, they are the ones who actually do the “sending.”  We pray that is you, or will be you, or will be someone you tell of our work.  We do send Texas Field Ministers into the darkest of places, as we are called to do.

Our aim is to see that the Texas Field Ministers Program, sponsored and funded by The Heart of Texas Foundation, will be generational in its impact.  That is, our work will continue into the next generation.  

We believe that there is every reason to believe that Texas christians can make sure that every year, without fail, new teams of gospel-trained, inmate men and women are sent into our huge prison system as Texas Field Ministers.  Texas has more churches.  Texas has more Christians.  Texas has the means.  And we know that many Christ-followers in Texas have the vision to do this. Will you join us? 

We don’t want to grow bigger, we want to go deeper.

For every 50,000 inmates who leave Texas prisons each year, another 50,000-plus come into Texas prisons.  There is no lack of men and women who find a calling to the gospel, and who want to become Texas Field Ministers. We have the population. We have the proven plan. We have the partners. We have the permissions.  The doors are open to continue on. We know how to do it.

All we need is your consistent help to go generational. That means this: year after year, on into the future, teams of trained men and women, all serving long sentences, and equipped to minister the good news of Jesus Christ—will continue as a stream of light going into the darkest of places in our prisons.

Will you become one of those who helps us send them? Unless they are sent, they cannot preach.

With great hope, and with thanks for you,

Grove Norwood   

Videos & Articles

Videos

Field Ministers daily share the gospel of Jesus Christ all over the state. Field Ministers first learn to walk the tiers of men in restricted housing, most commonly known by the public as solitary confinement. The video below captures men at the Darrington Unit being baptized by local pastors as the Field Ministers watch together from behind the white fencing.


The gospel and the women who are on their way to becoming Field Ministers. The Heart of Texas Foundation meets monthly with women from the Hobby Unit as well as TDCJ staff to prepare the way for the Texas Field Ministers Program to begin for women. Watch the video below to hear the women describe what the Texas Field Ministers Program means to them.


The gospel of Jesus Christ and family reconciliation. Barry Hasten, father of Austin, a current student and future Field Minister at Darrington, shares the impact of the Texas Field Ministers Program upon his family.


Gospel transformation and family relationships. Without fail, when someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord gives him or her a desire to restore relationships with family. This is especially true for fathers and mothers and their children, but it is also true for siblings. The video below is of Cathy whose brother, David, is serving as a faithful Field Minister at the Allred Unit.


Articles

Houston Chronicle, “Texas prison program makes ministers out of inmates” by Keri Blakinger

Exiles: A Prisoner’s Daily Devotional

he Heart of Texas Foundation Press published Exiles: A Prisoner’s Daily Devotional by Field Ministers Johnny Blevins, Jason Karch, and Terry Solley in September of 2015. Exiles has sold more than 8,000 copies.

All of the sales of Exiles go directly to a 501C3 nonprofit chosen by the authors that gives scholarships to children of inmates. Due to the sale of Exiles, five scholarships have been awarded.

To purchase Exiles in bulk for ministry purposes, not for re-sale, email michelle@heartoftexasfoundation.org. The bulk purchase rate is a case of 25 copies for $175.00 (or $7.00 per copy) which includes shipping and tax.

Exiles can be sent directly from Amazon to any man or woman in jail or prison.


The authors of Exiles, Jason Karch, Johnny Blevins, and Terry Solley see a hard copy of their published book for the first time.