"I'm Me Again"

A Story of a Former Inmate

as told by Claude Allen

     In 2016 Good Samaritan Advocates shared the excitement of opening a clinic at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Clarksburg, Maryland where 2 attorneys provided civil legal services to inmates.  Our team grew in 2017 to include 3 attorneys and 3 non- attorney volunteers, including a married couple as part of the team.  Every 4th Wednesday, we serve 8-10 inmates by answering their legal questions, praying with our clients, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and providing hope where they may have no hope at the prospects of their future.  At one clinic earlier this year, we met with 18 clients.  We were overwhelmed by God’s great favor with the Correctional Facility staff, even to the point where the Security Guards assisted us by having inmates ready and waiting to meet, without our having to ask.  We marveled at His kindness extended through others who valued GSA’s ministry and work in Clarksburg.

     God’s grace to GSA reaches beyond the prison walls, as well, as we seek to care for the inmates as they transition to the community.  One example of how we have had the privilege of helping inmates readjust to life on the outside is the story of Chris (fictitious name to protect client confidentiality).  We first met Chris last October when he came to ask for help challenging an injustice that prevented him from seeing his sons.  As we listened to Chris’s story, we asked if he had ever read the story of Joseph and how he was wronged by his brothers, falsely accused of attacking his boss’s wife, thrown in prison and allowed to languish in prison for years, all the while being used of God to care for others around him, and ultimately being elevated to the right hand of Pharaoh where he was able to rescue an entire kingdom and his family during a famine.  Chris did not know this story and agreed to read the Bible account.  We answered some of Chris’s legal questions, prayed for him, and invited him to return when he was scheduled for release. 

     Five months later, in March of this year, Chris returned to GSA.  He appeared to be a changed man.  He said, “I read the story of Joseph and through it, I found peace.  Even to the point of forgiving those who are responsible for me being here.”  We were blown away by his humility and transformation.  We felt that God wanted us to support Chris upon his release, but didn’t know what that would look like. 

     I offered to pick Chris up when he was released, but he wanted to be alone for his first day of freedom.  The following day, I met Chris, took him for his first meal, drove him to meet his probation officer, and helped him with other essential tasks.  We talked a long time about his feelings of hurt, shame, and loss.  He was frightened about how people would think about him and his incarceration.  He feared rejection from potential employers when they found out he had a criminal record.  He was beaten down and broken.  But God was faithful!!!  I spent time over the next few days talking with, encouraging him for the Scriptures, praying for him, and serving Chris in his practical needs.  We went to a Saturday morning Men’s Prayer group where he was able to share his concerns, see other men express their need for God, and receive love, care, and support.  Chris attended several Men’s Prayer meeting over the following weeks and after each meeting he expressed his deep gratitude to God and for those who were caring for him.  Chris was riding an emotional rollercoaster, cycling from highs about his freedom to lows over all he lost in relationships, employment, and self worth.  I was amazed by God as I watched Him rebuild Chris’s life, step by step, piece by piece. 

     Chris got a job, an apartment where his boys could visit, and a pathway forward for his life.  He was even open to reconciliation with those who had harmed him.  But, he still had legal issues that he needed help resolving.  GSA provided additional legal counsel and advice to Chris as needed.  One day, after weeks of walking along side Chris in his transition, I received a text message “I’m me again . . .. Thank you for not giving up on me and helping me not to lose hope. . . . I would not have made it without all your help.”  I could scarcely read his message through tears of gratitude as I recalled all those who helped Chris get a second chance and see him make the most of it.  God truly had restored the broken hearted.

     Surprisingly, God has extended the impact and influence of GSA to unexpected places as well.  A few weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with a prominent Member of Congress who was introducing legislation on criminal justice reform designed to improve the plight of so many trapped in the cycle of crime, prison, release, and recidivism. Initially, I had no idea why I was included in the meeting on Capitol Hill, but God’s plans are greater than ours.  I listened intently as the participants urged their requests be included in the legislation.  At one point during the meeting, the Congressman asked for personal stories of how the groups were having an impact on what was going on in prisons and correctional institutions.  The room went silent for what seemed an eternity.  None of the invitees could fulfill the Congressman’s request because they themselves had not volunteered in the local prison system.  So, I spoke up and shared about the amazing things that were happening in MCCF. 

     I spoke about the partnership GSA had with MCCF, the favor we enjoyed with MCCF leadership, Security staff, and the inmates.  I stressed the importance of providing for programs that served inmates while incarcerated that prepared them for reentry to the community.  I highlighted the importance of creating a continuum of care that would follow those released into the community to ensure they had the greatest opportunity to succeed with a second chance.  I shared Chris’s story and how providing legal services through GSA opened the door to Chris’s future success.  The Congressman’s eyes opened wide with delight and excitement.  God even allowed me to encourage the Congressman and his staff to visit MCCF to learn about their reentry program and keys to successful reentry.  After my encounter with the Congressman, I left in awe of God that he would use GSA, Chris, MCCF, and a divine appointment to impact our leaders to make a greater difference in the lives of those in our penal institutions.

     None of this would have happened without the prayers, support, and services of GSA and its faithful volunteers who give freely of their time, talents, and treasures to serve others through our legal aid clinics.

     When you invest your resources (money, time, prayer, care) in GSA, you are investing in the work to change lives here on earth and for eternity.  Thank you for co-laboring with us to reach men and women in need of legal service, prayer, and the Gospel to transform their lives.  When you care for these often forgotten and loathed people, you are fulfilling God’s command to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

     Let’s pray for more men and women like Chris who find new life in Jesus Christ because they were welcomed into the community and restored to meaningful life with a second chance. 

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    Claude Allen

Claude is Co-Director of the GSA Clinic at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF) in Clarksburg, MD. This testimony of his friendship with the MCCF former inmate was initially shared at the GSA 2017 Prayer Breakfast