The world’s largest evangelical prison ministry, Prison Fellowship, has teamed up with popular artists in Christian music, including Grammy Award-winning rapper Lecrae, in its annual effort to highlight the month of April as “Second Chance Month.”
Prison Fellowship, an organization that has offered hope, restoration and healing for prisoners, their families, and victims for more than 40 years, seeks to bring light to the restrictions and stigmas associated with incarceration as many ex-prisoners are doing their best to turn their lives around.
“Today, there are 44,000 documented social stigmas and legal restrictions limiting ex-prisoners access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach their full potential,” said Prison Fellowship Senior Vice President for Advocacy & Church Mobilization, Heather Rice-Minus, in an interview with The Christian Post. “We use Second Chance Month to raise awareness about these barriers and unlock brighter futures for people with a criminal record.”
She said the organization seeks to help reduce the number of “restrictions and stigmas” by supporting “those who have paid their debt to society live up to their full potential.”
Along with partnering with churches across the nation, Prison Fellowship has teamed up with famous Christian music artists, including Lecrae, who's always had a passion for prison ministry. He's been known to perform and speak at Prison Fellowship’s Hope Events in prisons and even take extra time to sit with and minister to incarcerated men.
"It's a passion for me," Lecrae told CP of the partnership. "There’s a lot of things that are important to people, some of them, it may be dealing with different needs in society."
“I think this one hits home for me, just being that I have a lot of friends, family members who have been incarcerated or currently are incarcerated. I know from personal experience what their life is like and how difficult it is and how stressful it can be. So it's a world that is severely underserved, so this is something important.”
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the number of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails in the United States was 1.8 million in mid-2020.
Prison Fellowship and Lecrae have committed to assuring all who are incarcerated that there is hope in Christ and prison doesn't have to be the end of their story.
"As a believer, I think we get the biggest second chance of all, in that we've fallen short of God's glory, and He gives us an opportunity to live up to the expectation that we were created for,” Lecrae said. “That's a big thing for me. I don't feel like there's anything I've ever done that can make God throw me away. So I don't want any person who's committed any crime to feel like they've been thrown away.”
Rice-Minus emphasized that Prison Fellowship stands behind the biblical principle of redemption in Christ because “we serve a God of second chances.”
“From Moses to Paul, our Gospel shows us the far-reaching power of redemption. It extends to every person, including those who have committed a crime,” she insisted. “As a leader at Prison Fellowship, it has been one of my greatest privileges to get a front-row seat to see the power of redemption take hold of those the world considers the most hopeless and undeserving.”
Churches are encouraged to celebrate Second Chance Month by hosting a Second Chance Sunday service during April. Prison Fellowship hosted their own on April 11, which featured worship from Hillsong East Coast and a sermon from Pastor Jon Kelly of Chicago West Bible Church.
Prison Fellowship has provided a Second Chance Sunday toolkit available for download to help equip churches that want to join the movement by hosting a Second Chance service.
"I think we just have to remember that those people are you and I,” Lecrae said of those who are in prison. “It could be any of us. In reality, it should be me. I just didn't get caught. So if you are comfortable dealing with any person, then you should understand these are human beings.”
"We listen to a lot of propaganda, a lot of stories and stereotypes, and there are some dangerous people. But at the end of the day, if we believe in a supernatural power, we believe that power is greater than anything else and has the ability to protect us and keep us and transform people,” he said of why people should boldly go into prisons and offer the hope of Christ.
For people who want to get involved in prison ministry but don't know where to begin, the artist, who will soon be releasing his Church Clothes 4 album, strongly recommended that people connect with Prison Fellowship.
“They've been doing it for years, started by Chuck Colson, who was also in prison,” Lecrae explained. “They can begin to understand what's going on in there. It's a full-fledged organization that gives a lot of insight.”
He also encouraged Christians to learn about the local ministries involved in this specific realm of evangelism, walking alongside people who've been engaged in prison ministry for a while.
“One way Christians can help advocate for justice is by visiting our Justice Action Center,” Rice-Minus said. “We have several active campaigns where Christians can put their faith into action by contacting their lawmakers in a matter of minutes.”
“We also invite Christians, churches and small groups to devote one day this month to pray for people in prison and their families and to discuss how we can help support second chances for those with a criminal record,” she encouraged.
The Prison Fellowship vice president took it a step further and said people should also look for ways to help those released from prison and are struggling to get reacclimated into society.
The prison ministry reported that approximately one in three U.S. adults has a criminal record. For many, having a criminal record limits their access to education, jobs, housing and other essential things needed to advance in life.
Rice-Minus noted that one of the most impactful ways Christians can offer second chances is “by opening up their hearts and homes to formerly incarcerated people.”
“It’s as easy as setting an extra place at your table, offering clothes for them to wear to an interview, or maybe even being an employment reference for them,” she advised. “By doing life alongside someone and offering them a second chance, you not only impact them, but you’re impacting future generations.”
Since launching the first Second Chance Month in 2017, Prison Fellowship has helped raise awareness about the many barriers that prevent former inmates from flourishing because of their criminal record.
The organization believes in a restorative approach for prisoners, former prisoners, and all who are affected by crime and incarceration.
"Across the world, you see restorative justice,” Lecrae detailed. “Restorative justice is where someone has done something wrong and they are spending time to find restorative work done on them for the crime that they have done.”
"America is one of the only nations that uses retribution of justice,” he maintained. “Retribution is almost as if you have to pay for what you've done wrong. [But] the reality is, there's no real way to pay for certain crimes. Obviously, if you stole money, you can give that money back. But there are some crimes that you can't pay back. So the only hope you can have is that they will be restored, transformed, make amends and move forward in society as a different restored human being.”
The social activist said he and Prison Fellowship want to see programs that will not be about punishing people, but also bring restoration.
Prison Fellowship mobilizes Christians to advocate for a more restorative approach to justice that “advances proportional punishment, constructive corrections culture and second chances for those who have paid their debt,” Rice-Minus added.
“Right now, our society locks up more of its citizens than any other nation,” she stressed. “And frankly, our misguided response to crime has pervasive, devastating and long-lasting consequences.”
She stressed that Christians should “visit the prisoner,” as the Bible commands in Matthew 25.
“And yes, we should share with incarcerated men and women that all things are possible through Christ,” she said. “But we cannot be complacent about a system that, upon their release, holds them back.”
Ministering to those in prison is a part of God's commission to the world, and the ministry of Prison Fellowship was grounded on that conviction.
“Christ was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for us. Most of the New Testament was written by Paul while he was imprisoned. If God touches prison so closely throughout the Bible, how can prison ministry not be part of God’s Great Commission?” Rice-Minus posited. “In Hebrews 13:3, it says, ‘Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.’ We are directly called to visit people in prison.”
Lecrae testified of how his visits to prisons have impacted his own life.
The chart-topping hip-hop entertainer recalled visiting “Angola” — the Louisiana State Penitentiary — where he witnessed inmates’ interaction with their children during a special father-children event.
He also highlighted Rashaun Thomas, someone who went to prison “depressed, angry and frustrated.” But after a few years, he said, Thomas decided that since he couldn't change his situation, he would instead be changed in the midst of it. Thomas now writes for major magazines and teaches families financial literacy to help “change legacy.”
"You can't go in there with a messiah complex, with an 'I'm coming to save somebody’ [mentality]. It's a mutual encouragement,” Lecrae said.
“I'm also coming to learn. I'm coming to not just feed but be fed, because there are some individuals in there who are more spiritually mature and wiser than you are. They've been sitting there for the last 24 years, dealing with some of the worst scenarios in existence and taking in truth and wisdom and learning how to apply it. So there's much that you can learn from talking and walking with people in there.”
Rice-Minus said that many people in prison feel “forgotten and hopeless.”
“Yes, the Bible is full of reminders that God cares deeply about the incarcerated. In fact, imprisonment is referenced over 5,000 times in Scripture, and some of the Bible’s greatest leaders, like Paul, were guilty of serious crimes and experienced incarceration,” she said. “Being able to share that hope with someone that they are more than their worst choice may be a turn in unlocking that person’s God-given potential.”
Lecrae said it’s imperative for those in prison to know their “identity” is in God.
“If you know who you are, if you know that God is your Father, the Son is your Savior, and the Spirit is your helper, then no matter where you are in the world, you can walk with a sense of hope,” the rapper told CP.
The Reach Records founder revealed that he reminds those he comes in contact with that "other characters” in the Bible who “we champion” were imprisoned or did terrible things.
“We champion a Moses, who murdered a man. We champion a David, who murdered thousands of people. You look at some of the patriarchs who participated in prostitution and things of that nature,” he maintained. "We're there to remind them that they're not alone and that there's no story where their redemption is not possible. But they are great candidates for God's mercy and restoration.”
Part of Prison Fellowship’s mission is to share biblical truth and care for the vulnerable and call for a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all.
Rice-Minus said Prison Fellowship has long been fighting for redemptive justice.
“As Christians, we believe that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Further, the Bible tells us that All people and things — including governments — were made through God and for Him. So we’re called to bring the hope of the Gospel to the least and the lost. But we are also compelled as Christians to bring that same redeeming power to unjust systems and structures that hold our brothers and sisters back from their God-given potential,” she added.
“We believe [it is] our mission at Prison Fellowship to restore those impacted by crime and incarceration. [That] includes not only our ministry to people behind bars, but our advocacy for justice reform that advances proportional punishment, constructive corrections culture, and second chances for those who have paid their debt.”
Though the criminal justice system still has a long way to go, there has been some change, said Lecrae and Rice-Minus.
"I think we've seen things change year after year — little things here, little things there — and that's all you can do is to push and pray that your ceiling becomes the next generation’s floor, and then they can start where you [left off]," Lecrae told CP. “Ten years ago, we weren't having a lot of the conversations that we're having now about the justice system.”
The Texas native explained that just a few short years ago, there weren't organizations around to help those unjustly incarcerated for crimes they didn't commit to get out of prison. He said he will continue to push and pray that “more changes will happen.”
Rice-Minus added, “One of the more recent changes we have seen in our justice system is a different approach to the restoration of rights, like voting rights.”
“On a national level, we were very involved with advocating for the passage of the bipartisan FIRST STEP Act in 2018.”
This bipartisan legislation expanded “rehabilitative programming and earned-time credit” opportunities so that people can be prepared to come home as productive citizens. It also provided more “flexibility in the use of mandatory minimums.”
Rice-Minus concluded by saying that she does believe change will come. But the “reality is, we need to continue to change culture to do it.”
According to a Barna survey commissioned by Prison Fellowship in 2019, only one in five Christians attend a church that raises awareness about criminal justice issues.
“We need to not only be talking about these issues from our pulpits but leading in prayer and action in the public square. Every voice matters, and one by one, we can chip away at that list of 44,000 barriers,” Rice-Minus ended.
Lecrae concluded by saying that his hope for Second Chance Month is that it will help people walk away with a “sense of hope, hope for themselves and hope for others, that lives are transformed because of this reality.”
“It's something powerful when society has told you that you are forgotten about, that you are no good, but people still remember you, and they come to serve and help you,” he said.