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The lowest place

"The lowest place" Continued...

Issue: "How Mark Souder fell," June 19, 2010

Smith should have been better prepared than most. In addition to his faith, he had a job through a work release program. While still incarcerated, he had married, had a child, and even purchased a home. Despite all that, the transition to the outside world was almost too much for him. "The first two or three weeks were fine," Smith says. "Then came the pressure of having to be a parent, a husband, to maintain my job and my family. It felt like I was on my own. It was very overwhelming. I started to associate with some old friends. My wife and I almost divorced."

The ministry helped Smith find a church community, and the church pulled him back: "It gave me hope. They seemed like they cared about me. I wasn't used to that. It was the love that drew me in to Christ."

Support structures are crucial for success in the outside world, so the program pairs prisoners one-to-one with mentors after release. The ministry makes sure they are prepared for the transition by offering classes on managing money, work culture, and writing a resumé that includes experience gained behind bars. The ministry even runs a prison-wide mandatory class for inmates going out on work release. It's a staggering amount of access for a nonprofit Christian ministry that receives no government funding: "It's all about trust," Stilwell says. "We have these programs and this access because we have trust. We built this building and gave it to the Department of Corrections and work here at the prison because of trust. You earn that right to have access and to have mandatory stuff."

Lacy Colón is counting the days until his release from prison on Sept. 18. He's been an inmate for over 15 years. Two years ago he was a proud and militant Muslim. Now he sings in the chapel choir and works in the ministry office as his official prison job. He became a Christian after hearing the pastor at a ministry service preach a sermon about Jonah. "When I was a Muslim, I was angry and bitter and full of vengeance and wrath, because Islam tells you it's OK," Colón says. "Islam actually preaches that 'those that transgress against you, transgress ye likewise but do not exceed the bounds.' It's an eye for an eye. With Christianity I feel more at peace, but that actually makes it hard sometimes."

When Colón was 18, he tried to settle a beef by shooting up a car carrying two of his enemies. The car swerved and hit a woman on the side of the highway, a tragedy that still haunts Colón: "I wanted to exact my revenge and an innocent person got hurt. The only innocent person in the whole thing is the one who got hurt." Now with his release imminent, Colón has a plan to make sure he never returns to prison: "I'm going to stay away from the lifestyle I used to live. God is putting people in my path to help me, they're already trying to help me. It's been a blessing."
Click here to listen to WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky discuss with Alisa Harris the South regional finalists.
To view a video profile of Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.

Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries Factbox

Location: Winston-Salem, N.C.

Founded: 1978

Mission: Helping prisoners come to Christ and prepare for life after release.

Size: Serves 1,200 inmates in 3 facilities.

Staff: 6 permanent staff members and more than 900 volunteers.

Annual Budget: $365,000 per year. 40 percent from churches, 40 percent from individuals, 20 percent from fundraisers

website: www.forsythjpm.org

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