Thursday, June 30, 2011

Crack prisoners could get break on sentences

crack cocaine

 Jun 30, 3:12 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- One in every 20 federal prisoners could be eligible for early release under a potential sentencing change for inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses that will be voted on Thursday.

     Congress passed a law last year substantially lowering recommended sentences for people convicted of crack cocaine crimes, ranging from possession to trafficking. The idea was to fix a longstanding disparity in punishments for crack and powder cocaine crimes, but the new, lower recommended sentences for crack offenders didn't automatically apply to people already in prison. Now it is up to the six-member U.S. Sentencing Commission to decide whether offenders locked up for crack offenses before the new law took effect should also benefit and get out earlier.

     Up to 12,000 of the some 200,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons nationwide could be affected. A report by the commission estimates that the average sentence reduction would be approximately three years, though a judge would still have to approve any reduction.

"There is a tremendous amount of hope out there," said Mary Price, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group for prisoners and their relatives. "There is a potential that people could see their sentences reduced, for some quite dramatically."

     At a meeting in early June, commissioners suggested they want to apply the lower recommended sentences to at least some past offenders, but it is unclear how many. Advocacy groups have asked for the widest possible application while a group of 15 Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate wrote a letter to the commission saying the Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress last year was not intended to benefit any past offenders.

     At a hearing in early June about the potential changes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took the middle road. He expressed support for making the new, lower guideline sentences retroactive but suggested limits on who should be eligible. Holder said prisoners who used weapons during their crimes or who have significant criminal histories should not be eligible. If the commission adopts that view it could cut in half the number of prisoners who would stand to benefit from 12,000 to approximately 6,000.

     Any decision about who should be eligible for a reduced sentence will have to be approved by four of the commission's six members, who include judges and former prosecutors. Once the commission votes, Congress has until the end of October to reject or modify the guidelines, though that is considered unlikely.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bridge 2 Hope



First Quarter Report

David Cheyne
Bridge 2 Hope began in March 2011 with the full endorsement of West End Assembly of God in Richmond, Virginia.  The ministry is led by David Cheyne along with three Board members: Dave Berger, Tom Bond, and Charlene Bragg.  

 The work really began in June of 2009 when David initially took on a ministry reaching prisoners on a part time basis.  That ministry has now expanded it into a comprehensive ministry reaching folks primarily in prisons, but also ministering to others in local area jails and hospitals.  A number of folks pray for the work and keep abreast of what the Lord is doing through Bridge 2 Hope.  

 There are approximately 35 volunteers assisting the ministry in some form or another: teaching, preaching, donating Bibles, donating equipment, etc.  A few have even made a financial commitment.  David is also networking with a number of reentry efforts around the Richmond area.  These organizations focus on assisting folks immediately upon their release from incarceration.  During the first quarter 5913 contacts were made through the ministry of Bridge 2 Hope.  73 inmates made decision for Christ, including one that was a former Muslim.

Our regular activities include: 6 worship services a week, 3 Bible studies a week, numerous counseling sessions, training sessions for leaders, Bible correspondence courses, baptisms, weddings, a 2 year Bible College program, a Christian library where inmates can check out materials, a prison choir, maintenance of pass lists for inmate movement to religious activities, assistance in the reentry process and connection to local churches, coordination of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program and their Faith Based Reentry  program at Deep Meadow Correctional Center, and other related activities.

  1. Prayer support from anyone interested in what God is doing to reach this population of needy folks.
  2. Study Bibles and Christian literature: English or Spanish.
  3. Financial support as the Lord leads.
  4. Volunteers who can assist either with the ministry on the inside or with those who have recently been released.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The *Education Behind Bars Newsletter*

The *Education Behind Bars Newsletter* (EBBN), a free bi-monthly publication
that will be debuting in July of 2011, is designed to fill the glaring void
in the world of prisoner publications. Often prisoners can be heard
expressing what a shame it is that their prison doesn't offer more
educational opportunities. Likewise, prison educators can be heard
expressing the difficulty in conveying conventional academics to those that
lack the baseline of even a high school or middle school education. EBBN
brings these two groups together with the information that each needs to
succeed.  EBBN will provide prisoner-students with the resources needed to
engage in formal education, and prison educators with detailed insight into
their academically challenged charges.

EBBN's focus is both practical and altruistic. On the practical level the
focus of EBBN is to provide news of top-notch correspondence programs,
overviews and critiques of current in-prison educational programs, real life
examples of difficult teaching situations and solutions to overcome them,
and success stories, along with both first-person experiences and scholarly
examinations of prison education in general. On the altruistic level the
focus of EBBN is to improve the lives of both prisoners and their families,
the work environment and success of prison educators, and to benefit society
in general by giving those in the trenches of prison education the tools
they need to succeed. EBBN will be vast and detailed, knowing and exploring.

Currently, EBBN is in the design stage. It is the brainchild of both
Christopher Zoukis (prison education expert and prisoner at FCI-Petersburg)
and Linda Huddleston (owner/operator of Midnight Express Books). As Mr.
Zoukis and Mrs. Huddleston finish crafting the layout, EBBN is aggressively
preparing for its debut issue. This includes a direct mailing campaign and
an online press release campaign, along with connections being made to
prison educators the world over. Already several renowned prison education
experts have agreed to contribute to both this project and the sister Prison
Education Blog <>.

EBBN is currently seeking support from prison educators and
prisoner-students alike. This support is requested in the form of articles,
essays, studies, and policy papers on prison education, educational program
reviews, and even conceptual ideas that could be integrated into EBBN. As an
altruistic and academic publication EBBN is very open to well-developed
pieces that further both the discussion on prison education and the
practical aspects of engaging in it. Pieces are to be in the 250 to 2,500
word range (some exceptions do apply with prior approval) and utilize
endnotes and a references section if needed. Authors are to include a short
bio which includes any academic or professional accomplishments.

As the debut issue comes near Mr. Zoukis realizes the weight of such a
project. As he says, "This isn't some kind of hobby or past-time. This is
real, this is now, and this vital to the economic stability of both our
nation and the millions connected to the current over-bloated corrections
system in the United States." He continues, "The answer is simple: prison
education is the single most cost-effective proven method of reducing
recidivism that we as a people know of." Mr. Zoukis has pledged both his
financial support and the many hours of work needed to make to such a worthy
cause a reality.

With this support comes a lofty goal, the goal of a 300-copy minimum debut
issue circulation which is being distributed for free. To add to this, EBBN
is also being hosted on this site for free. As Mr. Zoukis says, "An
education is an inherent human right that cannot be assigned a price-tag.
Therefore, I will do everything that I can to get EBBN into the hands of
those who need it regardless of their ability to pay for such information."

Submissions for EBBN can be emailed to Mr. Zoukis at

They can also be mailed directly to him at:

Christopher Zoukis

P.O. Box 1000 #22132-058

Petersburg, VA 23804

Any prisoner correspondence or donations must go to:

Education Behind Bars Newsletter

P.O. Box 69

Berryville, AR 72616

*All checks should be made out to Midnight Express Books*

To find out more about Mr. Zoukis' efforts in the prison education realm,
including the class that he teaches from inside a federal prison, please
visit his Prison Education
Blog<>or follow
him on Twitter @Czoukis.

Picture courtesy:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It needs to be about the children..

Children who have a parent in jail or prison often learn the many nuances of the phrase "guilty by association" the hard way.
"These children have to deal with the stigma of having a parent in jail on many different fronts," says Marcy Douglass, assistant professor in the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel. "For instance, if something goes missing in their classroom at school, assumptions are often made."

But even those assumptions that steer clear of questioning the child's character can do damage. "These kids don't want people to label them, but even teachers can think of them in a certain way," says Danielle Schultz, a school counselor at Camp Curtin Elementary School in the Harrisburg (Pa.) School District. "People try to pigeonhole them as at-risk kids. That frustrates me because they also have so many positives and strengths.

"In addition, policies and practices meant to punish criminal offenders often end up claiming their children as collateral damage, says Elisabeth Bennett, associate professor and chair of the Gonzaga University Department of Counselor Education.
"Even though we now know more about how important clear attachments are for children, rates of visitation are dropping," says Bennett, explaining that geographic proximity is often a major barrier to visitation. "As a society, we tend to think that prisoners should have as miserable a time as possible, so they shouldn't be allowed to see their children. Maybe the person deserves that, but the question is, does the child deserve it?"
Bennett, a member of the American Counseling Association, says it's also common for children to assume a certain level of guilt for a parent's incarceration. "The child often sees the parent's crime, especially in cases of domestic abuse or drug use, and witnesses the parent being removed from the home [by law enforcement]. In many cases, the child feels responsible for getting things back to the way they were. The kid often feels a huge amount of guilt for what has happened, particularly in cases of sexual abuse. Regardless, as the child, you're left to deal with the destruction once the parent is incarcerated."

Endangered Innocence
Counseling Today Online
Jonathan Rollins, editor-in-chief of Counseling Today.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thoughts from a woman in jail

How did I end up here?

     This can NOT be happening. I am in sitting in a jail cell. What am I going to do? I don't have any money for a real lawyer, and God knows my mom sure doesn't. I am guilty!  How will I ever get out of this mess? I am not not like these people. I have a job, well, I had one...  I have a lot of  responsibilities. I'm not a drug dealer or a murderer. I have bills to pay- I  have to pay my rent, and car payment. What about my daughter? What will happen to her? This is going to hurt her and she is innocent. This is unbelievable.

     My family is going to be so hurt and ashamed.  No, not going to be, they are. My grandma, my mom... who is going to help take care of mom now? Daddy is gone, and Mom is sick. That hurts me the worst. I made one stupid mistake and now I am here. I am so ANGRY! Why, why did I do it? What was I thinking?

   I never thought I would get caught, that's the thing. I thought I could outsmart everyone. I thought if I did get caught somehow I would be able to talk my way out of it, like I had all the other times. I could shed a few tears, show the boss my dimples... I never imagined this.  It has all come crashing down on me now.  I wish I was dead. No amount of money is worth this.

      This place stinks. Literally, it smells awful. I don't have a trial date yet and since I was denied bond I have to stay here who knows how long?  I am in a ten by twelve foot cinder block room with four bunk beds, and a toilet. The toilet is right by the head of the bed. There's no curtain, no door, nothing! No privacy!  My cellmates are horrible. I swear they are all insane. I can't do this! I will probably  starve to death.The food is served cold, and it tastes bad. I can't get a drink when I am thirsty. I have to pay to get a pencil and paper and buy a stamp. Guess what?  I have no way to earn any money here. I have to rely on my family or a friend to send a money order and then wait until they put it in my account. All I do is sleep and cry and yell at these horrible, stupid women. I am so bored and tired. I wish I had a book or something.

   Someone mentioned I might be able to get a Bible, if I filled out a form and asked for one. I don't see how that would help me. I quit going to church a long time ago, and it doesn't seem fair to go now that I am in trouble. Jail house religion- so lame. But... maybe it would do me some good with the judge. I have to think of something. Maybe they would see that I have changed if I read a Bible and went to the Bible study. I am  completely and utterly depressed. I feel hopeless.

Two months later...

  I got a Bible to read out of sheer boredom. All my yelling and fighting with those crack-head room mates got me in trouble and labeled "difficult".  Now I am in a maximum security unit, and can only leave my cell for two hours a day. If I am good they will move me back into the general population, but things move slowly here. I feel so lost, and alone and horrible. The other people here are all so messed up. I did make one friend, she was actually nice. She prayed for me, HA! It was so  weird, but somehow good. I cried which was awkward but I am so worried about my little girl. Afterward she invited me to Bible study, maybe I will go.

A week later...

     Last Sunday I went to the Bible study hoping to see my friend again, but as it turns out she goes on a different day. A few other women were there, about six of us.  I just sat there with my arms folded. I was mad that my friend wasn't there and I felt uncomfortable.   Then one of the girls sang an old hymn that I still remember from a long time lifted me. I cried when I heard it. Something kind of cracked open inside of me The lady who did the study said some things about second chances, and forgiveness, and God loving me no matter what I have done, that encouraged me. She prayed for us and promised to write and keep praying. I need it, this place is so hard; I think I'm losing my mind.  I miss my little girl so much. Her daddy won't keep her, and Mama can't, so she is with a friend of mine. I don't know how long she can take care of her. My life is a wreck. Oh God...

Two weeks later-

     I was in my cell and I remembered something I heard in church once. Some verse about "go to your room, close the door and pray." I thought to myself, well, I am in a room and the door is definitely closed, so I got down on my knees and prayed. I asked God if He was real, and really there for me, then I desperately needed a touch from Him. I asked Him to please forgive me and help my little girl and my mom.  I cried and cried. Then suddenly, I swear, I did really feel something. I felt different. I felt better. I felt peace like I had never known. I really do feel like He touched me. I looked for my Bible and started reading the Psalms. I stayed up all night reading. I do have hope now. It's jail house religion, but it's REAL.

Three months later...

     I have been looking forward to Sunday since last Monday. The folks at Hope Aglow brought me a Bible Study that I can fill out and it gets graded. I can actually get a certificate when I finish. They sent me "Our Daily Bread" devotional, and a book on prayer. They come to the jail every week and have a ninety minute Bible study with us. They write to us and pray for us. When I get released in December I am invited to their church, Hope Aglow Fellowship. They have a Celebrate Recovery program that meets once a week and I know that will help me.

 You won't believe this but I thank God that I was caught. If I hadn't, who knows what all I might have done? I needed this wake up call for my life. I was headed straight downhill and didn't even realize it. I thought I was not like these other people but I am. The only difference now is I am forgiven. I realize so many things now that I didn't before. This has been very difficult and no one should ever have to go through this, but it was good for me. I hope my family can see that I have changed. I am taking my little girl to church with me when I get out. I love Jesus!

He sets the captives free

     This fictionalized story is a compilation of testimonies of the women we reach out to at Hope Aglow.  I have heard the story above told to me over and over. These are real women and they are really hurting.  They need Jesus, and He is absolutely there for them. He is so close to the wounded and broken hearted. The Holy Spirit roams the halls of the jails seeking, listening. He is on the move!

The gospel changes lives. Some people have to go down to the "gates of hell" before they will repent. We want to reach out to them when they are hurting and share the life changing truth of Jesus Christ. Every person created by God has value, worth and dignity because they belong to Him. Jesus Christ gave his life for everyone. The pedophile, the bank robber, the drug dealer, the prostitute, the Senator, the embezzler, the priest. You and me.

free at last

     Please support the ministries of Hope Aglow with your prayers and if led, financially. We do a good work with your donation- the work of sharing light in dark places. We travel many miles and visit places that are very dark, but the light is needed there. We have a thriving body of believers in the jails and prisons of America. They need us to love and support them while they are there, and to help them reach out to other inmates.

 Thank you and for every prayer you pray for us and every penny you send we pray the Lord blesses you a hundred fold.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Haven: A Place of Refuge and Freedom

     One of the new ministries affiliated with  Hope Aglow is a recovery program called The Haven. On Valentine's Day this year Kevin and Sonya Davis, who own Pine Haven Printing and Design, felt led of the Lord to take over The Redemption Center in Altavista, VA. The former owners, Bob and Dee Phillips were called back into the ministry and were going to close the doors. After much prayer, God showed the Davis family " in an overwhelming way, His will." They said it was not an easy decision to make, since owning Pine Haven is a full time job in itself. They wanted to be sure they could handle both, but in the course of praying, God showed  Sonya and Kevin that He was going to bless them "exceeding abundantly above all they could ask or think"!

     They named the ministry The Haven, and things took off like gangbusters! As they prayed, people and businesses began to step forward and donate. Very soon they had the first two month's rent and utilities paid for and other monies donated to provide for books and other ministry expenses.

     People stepped forward to come on staff, an advisory board was put in place and another experienced ministry came alongside to partner with them in providing the 501c(3) status needed. They had the court system send a representative as an advisor and the courts also agreed to continue using Haven facilities as a place to send people on parole for drug violations.

     Sonya and Kevin say the main request they have for the ministry is prayer. "This ministry has the potential to affect every church, every business and every household in the surrounding Altavista area." Sonya tells us, " there is not a family on the face of the earth that is not touched by some kind of addiction." She admits their powerlessness to succeed with this ministry without the faithful fervent prayers of righteous men and women. We agree and support her wholeheartedly! She asks us all to partner with her in prayer and to enlist the help of your local church also. In return,

     - they want to offer services to your church.  If you live near the Altavista area, they "want to be a place you can send your hurting for healing,  your addicted for freedom and your babies for growing." 

They offer Celebrate Recovery on Sunday afternoons from 4:45-6:45 p.m. This class alternates with classes on Dealing with Anger and Forgiveness. On Tuesday mornings they have a Bible study for women, from 8:30 - 10:30a.m. In the past they have offered Beth Moore's  Breaking Free  and will soon start Bondage Breaker, by Neil Anderson.  Also, on Wednesday evenings there is a Bible Study which is open to the public. Chip Ingram's Celebrating Life Change is the current study being offered.

     If you or your church would like more information about The Haven, please contact Sonya Davis at 434-309-7248.

"It was for freedom that Christ has set us free" Galatians 5:1