Florida Prison Ministries was formed in 1989 with Frank and Maxine Barton along with Elder Malcolm and Hazel Gordon introducing prison ministry to Florida Conference. Elder Obed Graham, then Conference President, wanted to start a Conference prison ministries organization in Florida.
We set up an advisory committee of numerous individuals that would be a cross representation of ministers and lay members who could help plan and implement our vision to reach God’s children behind prison walls and their families/friends with a Bible-based prison ministry program containing only Bible truth.
We have found that church members were eager to minister to inmates and their families if they had three things: training, printed materials at a reasonable cost, and support from the church/conference.
The Lord has given us a training program that has been so effective, we have grown from having approximately prison ministries programs in six institutions in 1989 to ministering in more than 84 institutions—praise the Lord. Several hundred workers are ministering to thousands of inmates and their families each week in Florida. In the training program that the Lord gave us, we teach the qualifications for service, spiritual warfare, anatomy of a setup, the do’s and don’ts, ministering in prison, handling emergency situations, and the importance of support programs.
Our training program has been blessed by the Lord in that we have successfully taught elderly women who thought they were too old to minister in prison. (See Testimonies.)
We have two sets of Bible lessons we use in our ministry and print them ourselves to keep the cost at an affordable level for the quantities that will be given away. By printing our own Bible lessons, this classifies us as a publisher, as the prisons will only accept materials sent in from publishers or book suppliers.
First, we have a Bible lesson which consists of six lessons designed to lead a person to Christ, along with a copy of Happiness Digest. On the sixth lesson, the person studying is asked if they would like to continue studying. If they respond yes, we send them our 32 Bible lessons which have basic Bible truths necessary for salvation.
The 32-lesson set includes an insert form explaining if inmates complete the lessons, they will receive a certificate of completion along with a free spiritual book of their choosing as indicated on the back of the form. Each form has a place for them to give us additional names of individuals who they think would like to have a chance to learn these Bible truths.
Another reason for printing and using our own material pertains to inmate relocation. In order to keep tension down, prisons often move inmates from one facility to another. If inmates are gathering as a gang, they will be split up. If any of those inmates are taking our Bible lessons, the material is not forwarded to them at the new prison. Instead, the material is returned to us, and we can usually find where they have been transferred and contact our prison ministry leader near the new prison to make contact with the inmate and invite them to resume the lessons.
The local church which is ministering to a particular prison institution usually purchases the study material and distributes it to inmates in that prison and/or their families/friends. They will also take the lessons to their church for correction and distribute them back to the inmates. This way, they know the growth and needs of the individual inmates. If the lessons were sent to some other place to be corrected, they may never get back to the inmate, and our workers will not know how they responded or have a sense of their spiritual growth.
If the inmate sends his/her lessons to the prison ministry office, we will respond to their needs while we send his/her lessons to our special workers at Florida Living Church who have been correcting our Bible lessons for us for many years. This gives them something they enjoy doing in their retirement, and they provide an excellent service seeing that the inmates lessons are corrected and returned. They also send additional spiritual tracts to enhance their studies.
All of our material, including Bibles, is subsidized to keep the cost down and is managed and shipped by the Adventist Book Center. By doing this, the materials are shrink-wrapped to ensure it has not been compromised with contraband.
Our goal is to see that every inmate and their families/friends who want to know about Jesus Christ and be saved will have that opportunity. In our efforts to reach that goal, we realized that inmates on death row, in solitary confinement, or in prisons where we do not have a prison ministry program all need a program that will reach them.
Two programs were created for this purpose. First, because we get many letters from inmates asking for someone to help them understand the Bible, we established a very successful pen pal program called Regeneration Fellowship. This program is safe due since the inmate never knows who the pen pal person is or where they live. In addition, we read every letter to ensure that the inmate is not getting out of bounds with our pen pal personnel. This way, we can give our pen pal advice in some matters.
Second, we have a monthly newsletter we print also called Regeneration Fellowship. This is edited each month with all kinds of interesting Bible-based material. It will also reach those on death row, solitary confinement, and in institutions where we do not have any prison ministry workers going in doing a program.
The newsletter has all kinds of interesting articles and a means for inmates to write in and have their Bible questions answered. It has editorials, health issue information, Bible trivia, a guide to read through the Bible in a year, an offer for free Bible lessons, and a place to send prayer requests. We print several thousand every month in Florida and mail them to the prisons. We have given other Conferences permission to use the content, but change the name and address for their use.
We also now give the inmates a chance to continue to study our message when they are released. They can fill out a form giving us permission to contact them with the address and telephone number where they can be reached. This form comes to the Conference office, and the nearest church with a prison ministry program is contacted for follow up. (Our thanks to Brother Joel McDowall for this suggestion).
The Lord has blessed Florida Prison Ministries to such an extent that we have been asked to teach others. We have been all over the country teaching what the Lord has shown us to do. This ministry has reached throughout North America and beyond.
We want to thank God for using us in such a way that He is glorified. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of host” —Zechariah. 4:6