Mentoring Men in Prison has Changed Lives, Especially Mine
Contributed by Jeff Dobyns, CFP(R)
As I sat in the Correction Corporation of America Facility, I looked around at the empty chairs. I scheduled some of Nashville’s top songwriters to play a concert with the inmates and yet there were only two people sitting there listening to the inspirational music. And one of them was me. The Men of Valor concert was supposed to give the inmates entertainment and inspiration, but a prison lock-down prevented the men from coming. That didn’t stop Men of Valor. While the chords floated over the empty chairs and through the room, echoing off the metal doors, you had to believe that the men could still hear it from their cells. Even on a dark day, in a dark hour, Men of Valor was doing its work, reaching those men who needed it most.
I’ve been involved with Men of Valor as a mentor for ten years and board member for eight years. I do it to try to help reduce the recidivism rate. Nationally the recidivism rate is 70%+, and yet for the inmates who become involved in the Men of Valor program, fewer than 10% re-offend and return to prison. More importantly, I do it because God commands that we get involved and serve the poor and the imprisoned.
As I reflect on my life, it seems that whenever I have needed someone to help me navigate through a challenging obstacle, someone was there to offer me encouragement and instruction. Unfortunately, these positive influences have never existed for most men in prison. But Men of Valor is changing lives – including my own.
My father was a defense attorney – I often argued with him, saying criminals should just be locked up and sent away forever. It’s my natural instinct to suggest that we need to punish these men and punish them for a long time. But, through my involvement with Men of Valor I have seen behind the curtain into the lives of these men.
Robert is the man who I have been partnered with for the past five years. Robert and I spent a year together while he was excelling at the Men of Valor Jericho Project while imprisoned at CCA. After Robert was released from prison, he was truly prepared to flourish and succeed. He just needed a little help – not unlike the help many of us needed when we went to college our freshman year.
With a little help from my family, a lot of help from Men of Valor, and an amazing amount of encouragement from Jesus Christ, Robert has made it and is someone that we would all be proud to know. He is married and he is a terrific father to his wife’s young son. He has had a steady job for 4 years and has been promoted several times. Robert has even purchased a home and has taken his family to Disney World.
And now he’s paying it forward.
Recently, at a funeral for a high school friend killed in an accident, Robert became the mentor to several friends that grew up in his neighborhood who had very little going for them. These men saw that Robert was a success. These men wanted to be like Robert. And, gratefully, Robert was ready, willing, and able to mentor and disciple them – because Carl Carlson and Men of Valor discipled Robert, now Robert is discipling other men who desperately need it.
My experience with Robert and the Men of Valor Ministry has taught me a few things about myself, as well. First, if I had grown up in a family situation like these men in prison, I’d be in the exact same situation and begging for someone to mentor and walk with me.
These men are incredibly talented, are willing and able to work very hard, and are willing to lay down their lives to serve the Lord – they just need a mentor to guide them through the challenges of day-to-day living. These challenges can be overcome by perseverance, encouragement, guidance and faith.
God commands that we get involved and serve the poor and the imprisoned. He doesn’t suggest it. He doesn’t recommend it. He commands it. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Why? Probably because it does more for us than it does for the poor and the imprisoned. I know it has meant more for me than it has for the man that I mentor.
Opinions expressed are those of Jeff Dobyns and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. Raymond James is not affiliated with the Men of Valor organization.