Prison Fellowship is an international Christian organization that ministers to men and women in prison. It was started by Chuck Colson (1931-2012), who served at Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon. In 1974 Colson went to prison for his role in the Watergate cover-up. When he was released he began this ministry. This article by Zoe Erler appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s quarterly publication written specifically for incarcerated men and women. To learn more about Inside Journal, and to read or print out previous issues, click here. Prison Fellowship’s work has resulted in thousands of stories like this.
Pauline Rogers’ first experience in a court room was testifying about her father’s murder. Then just 9 years old, Pauline had watched her mother shoot him.
“I helped her put him in the car,” she admits. “He died on the way to the hospital.”
The court ruled it a case of self-defense, and Pauline’s mother wasn’t convicted. She came home to the family, but nothing was ever the same.
“My mother became a workaholic and was never around,” Pauline explains. Suddenly, Pauline became a mother and a father to her younger siblings.
There was rarely enough to eat, so Pauline became creative. She would scan the newspaper to find out which churches were having funerals. She would dress up her siblings and take them to the church, where they would always find a meal.
Before long she was also stealing to provide for their needs. “I stole from department stores, dollar stores, and grocery stores; anything what was within walking distance for me was a target,” Pauline admits. She was now on the road that would lead her to prison.
Pauline was 11 the first time she was caught. The kind police officer pulled her aside, explained that she shouldn’t steal, paid for the stolen goods, and drove her home. But that wasn’t enough to wake Pauline up. She was arrested a few times, but never faced serious consequences. When in her late twenties, Pauline’s behavior finally caught up with her, and she was sentenced to six years in prison.
While Pauline was sitting in the county jail, waiting to be transferred to the state prison, she met a Prison Fellowship volunteer who introduced her to Jesus. That turned everything around for her. “I knew I could depend on God,” she said.
By the time she got to prison in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, Pauline was intent on taking advantage of every opportunity she could; particularly the programs offered by Prison Fellowship, such as life-skills training, discipleship, and mentoring opportunities. She also worked for the chaplain, who continued to mentor Pauline along her journey as a follower of Jesus. Over time they became like mother and daughter.
Pauline helped the chaplain with standard assistant tasks like paperwork, but was also called upon to assist in ministering to other prisoners. “If there was a death in an inmate’s family, I would take her with me,” the chaplain said, so Pauline could meet with the grieving prisoner to comfort them and help them through the process.
Pauline did three years on a six-year term. When she was released in 1987, the chaplain took her into her home for a while so she could readjust to life on the outside.
Eventually, Pauline was hired by a doctor— a volunteer whom Pauline had met when she was in prison—to work as a janitor in her office. As Pauline proved herself, the office staff realized her potential to do more, and her responsibilities grew as she continued to work there for the next 27 years.
She got involved with a good church, and, she married Fred, also a former prisoner whom she had met while incarcerated. She began volunteering with Prison Fellowship, going back into prisons to minister. He and Fred even started their own ministry to others coming out of prison. Over the past several years, they have opened their home to more than 20 ex-prisoners, helping them get back on their feet.
Henry Daniels was one of those they helped. Locked up for 34 years, Henry knew Fred when they were both in prison. When Henry was released in 2006, the Rogers gave him a temporary home and helped him get a job at a restaurant. Today, Henry has his own landscaping business. “They helped me get adjusted back to society,” he says. “I don’t know what I would have did if it hadn’t been for them.”
Just recently, Pauline became the field director of Prison Fellowship in Mississippi. From a little lost girl, to the director of a ministry that reaches out to families like hers, Pauline can only say that her life is one of amazing transformation.
Matthew 25:36b…40 — (Jesus said), “I was in prison and you came to visit me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Psalm 79:11a — May the groans of the prisoners come before you.
Hebrews 13:3 — Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal. Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; save them from becoming brutal or callous; and protect them. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship, (#186), Augsburg Publishing House, 1978 (adapted).