Charlie grew up in Wisconsin with Christian parents, but wanted nothing to do with the faith. He owned a painting business for a while, but was arrested this year for selling drugs. It’s not his first stint in jail.
“My dad used to talk about Billy Graham all the time when I was younger,” he said. So when a chaplain in Minnesota’s Dakota County Jail showed some inmates a video featuring Mr. Graham, it struck a chord with Charlie.
“The way he was speaking on there, it was profound,” he said. The video, along with the jail’s faith-based programs — some based on BGEA materials—”has really pulled me closer to God.”
The video Charlie saw, called “Defining Moments,” is part of My Hope America, a grassroots evangelistic outreach that culminates in less than two weeks around the nation. As Christians invite friends into their homes to watch a short film on TV or DVD, inmates in Dakota County have already seen their own lives touched by the national effort.
Read more about Dakota County Jail here.
Charlie’s former cellmate, Kevin, remembers when Charlie arrived. Kevin kept inviting him to church services and Bible study at the jail, but Charlie hesitated. He finally went to a service, and his life changed.
“I started to open up,” he said, “and when you open up, somethin’s gotta fill it, and it might as well be God.”
Charlie wears a tan jail uniform and bright orange sandals like everyone else. Tattoos cover both forearms. He sits in a circle with other inmates in a tidy room as they lean over their Bibles and read a passage out of the Gospel of John.
“Every day, I need a dose of reading or something to help keep me on track,” he said. He thinks of Lacey Sturm, former lead singer of “Flyleaf,” who shares her testimony in “Defining Moments.” Lacey wonders why God would give His Son to die for someone like her.
“That really hit me because that’s where I was at,” Charlie said. He committed his life to Christ shortly before watching the short film, and said the film “solidified my choice to let God take over my life.” It gave him a sense of relief that he is forgiven and loved.
See pictures from the jail here.
Other inmates have felt the same peace after seeing “Defining Moments” or “Lose to Gain,” another My Hope program. Many of those touched by a My Hope program complete a short BGEA Bible study called “Living in Christ” that helps them grow in their faith.
Brian has seen both My Hope programs and said there’s power in the personal testimonies. “Lose to Gain” follows one young woman who talks about wearing “masks,” pretending to be something on the outside while feeling hopeless on the inside.
Brian can relate. He was arrested Nov. 6, 2012, for drug possession and a weapons charge.
“I felt like I was in a fog. I just felt dead inside,” he said. “I finally on November 9 just got on my knees and said, ‘I’m just tired. It’s make it or break it time.'”
The next day, “I felt so alive. Like my mind was healed. I didn’t feel this glove over my head anymore.”
He walks with confidence, and there’s a steady focus in his eyes as he talks about God transforming his life. He works in the jail, cleaning and setting up classrooms for various programs. He started a vegetable garden in a small courtyard, with the produce given to a food pantry.
He’s reminded of the story of Jim Munroe, an illusionist in “Defining Moments.” In the video, Munroe meets his bone marrow donor, the girl who saved his life.
“I cry every time,” Brian said, and knows God has given him new life, too.
But the inmates touched by My Hope aren’t keeping their transformations to themselves.
Brian is working on a mural in his unit depicting all the addictions and temptations people suffer, and how Christ can set them free from every single one.
Charlie is reaching out to other inmates, too. Sometimes he tells them in passing, “Be at church on Sunday!” And he has a cellmate who he says needs God.
“We’re all in a place we don’t want to be because of who we were,” he said of his brothers in Christ gathered around the circle. “And now we’re trying to build ourselves into what God wants us to be and to walk in that lifestyle. It’s hard to have anybody else follow us if we aren’t leading by example ourselves.”
Charlie was always the family member furthest from God, he said, but recently wrote to his aunt, telling her about “Defining Moments” and the changes in his life.
He also reached out to his sister. Three months before he went to jail, she called to tell him he was on a dangerous path.
“I cussed her out and said, ‘Don’t call me,'” he said, then tears up. “I wrote her a letter and told her the good news.”
To read part 2, click here.