Little did I know that accepting an invitation almost 10 years ago from my friend Bob Richardson, to have donuts and coffee at Cherry Street Prison, would reshape my “view of the world from where I’m sitting.”  Men from Mt. Tabor UMC meet quarterly at the prison chapel fellowship hall for a time of “Donuts and Devotions” with 40-60 inmates. I knew I liked Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee, however, I also knew I had a lot of preconceptions of prisoners. Nevertheless, I stepped out of my comfort zone and accepted the invitation.

About the time I received this invitation, Bob also invited me to hear J.C. Watts, one of the first African American Republican Congressman from the South, speak at Guilford College in Greensboro NC.  I remember vividly, J.C. explaining that many minorities, who were underprivileged came from environments of addiction, abuse and neglect, had a far different “view of the world from where they were sitting,” than the average child growing up in a blue collar family.  He went on to explain that everything they saw in their formative years, was seen through a different “lens” than what my child sees.

Receiving these invitations from Bob, trying to understand J.C. Watts message, and getting more involved with the Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries, started a paradigm shift in my way of thinking toward inmates.

Over 8 years ago I became a Community Leave Sponsor and Volunteer at the prison which has allowed me to take inmates to church, Bible studies, out for meals, and mentor after release.  Also I attend programs coordinated by the Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministry chaplains and staff.

Through these programs, I’ve listened confidentially to men share their personal stories.  Sometimes the stories are filled with shame, regret, and guilt, while other times they are stories of hope, grace and redemption.  God continues to remind me that though we may share very different backgrounds, we are all children of God first and foremost. He loves us equally. We all need His redemption and grace.

I’m thankful that God has opened my eyes to the struggles of those in prison. I’m humbled at the lessons He has taught me, and continues to teach me, through His work to transform men behind bars.  They have helped me get a glimpse of the “view from where they are sitting”, which in turn helped reshape my distorted view. God opened the door for me to take a leap of faith, grow closer to him, and interact with men behind bars.

-Jeremy D. Willard, Board of Directors for Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries