A former inmate, now Child of God.

While incarcerated at an Upstate New York prison Jake participated in one of our Residents Encounter Christ (REC) retreats. At the time he was a single man in his mid-20s serving a 30-month sentence for a felony. Now, he is a General Manager for a major Rochester facility, a loving husband, a dedicated father of three children, and an active member of a Christian church community.

Yet this description doesn’t tell you enough about Jake, says one of our longest-serving volunteers. She adds, “Everyone loves him. He’s like a magnet for people from all walks of life. He is a man of character who lives a faith-filled life every day.” Jake talks below about the prison retreat and its impact:

What REC did was give me an opportunity to take a pause from the daily stressors and challenges of what an inmate goes through on a daily basis in prison. You go to an environment that, yes, is still in prison, but it is a place of calm, a place of peace. It gave me time to dive deeper into my heart, to let down barriers and guards and truly open up my heart. An inmate in prison cannot make himself vulnerable, so having that opportunity is of great importance and worth.

When I entered prison, I was in an identity crisis. I tried so hard and so long to be something I wasn’t. I made a lot of poor choices trying to live up to a persona I wasn’t. In REC you do a lifeline and you tell your story in front of 30 other inmates, and I described myself as “an asshole.” By identity crisis I mean I didn’t know I was a child of God. I didn’t know God loved me.

“You’re reminded constantly – it is palpable, tangible when you’re inside – of the poor choices you made that led you to where you found yourself. That weight is heavy. So, when you have volunteers come in and they show warmth, compassion, sympathy, it lifts your spirits up. It gave me hope – I was due to be released within about eight months – that when I got released that there would be people who would welcome me.”

When I am asked how did having a change of heart affect me, I say there is the immediate impact and then there is the impact over time that is a gradual change and an on-going journey. Life is getting better the older I get.  I say that jokingly but with all sincerity because my heart is continuing to change and I’m becoming closer and closer to the Light of Christ. We are all sinners but the daily change and the daily work to change my heart has a positive impact, including on those around me. Whenever I am at my wit’s end I just pray. It changes me and it softens me. I know that there is mercy and grace.

One can change the heart with the support of the outside community. It really gives hope and it allows the inmate to look outside those walls for a moment in time and say, “You know what, there is something else out there” and to look forward to that day when it comes.