Upon my release from Federal Prison, I completed my Masters degree in professional counseling from Liberty University by doing an internship at the Union Gospel Mission. That is where I met Maria. She had been volunteering there for quite some time. On the day I met Maria, I had been working out on my treadmill in the morning and watching a television show called “Proclaim,” with Mike Barber, an ex NFL player who for the last twenty years has had a world-wide prison ministry. As I was watching Mike on TV minister to the ladies in a woman’s prison, a number of fond and tender memories came flooding back to me about my own prison worship experience. Church behind bars was phenomenal and I thank those who came in from the outside and ministered to us on the inside with church services, Bible studies, weekend retreats, mailings and so much more. As I was working out and listening to the program I said quietly but out loud, “God I am never going back to prison,” and I heard God say back to me in my spirit, “Never, not even for me?” I remember hitting the stop button on the treadmill and saying to God; “Are you kidding?” And with attitude I said; “If you want me to go back to prison it’s going to have to be the right way and you are going to have to open up some pretty big doors.” Later that very same day at the Union Gospel Mission, Maria introduced herself to me and asked me if I would consider doing a volunteer Bible study for the female inmates at the St. Louis County Jail. I gulped and said, “We would need to talk.” Week after week, she kept asking me if I would be interested in doing a jail Bible study and ultimately gave me an application. I said; “Do you know my background?” To which Maria said; “No.” We later met for coffee and I told her my entire story.
When I was fired from First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center for theft the Sheriff of the county I live in, Ross Litman, was on the center’s board of directors. I shared that with Maria and said; “I don’t think the Sheriff who oversees the jail is going to want me to volunteer.” Maria looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and burst out laughing. I said; “What is so funny about my tragic story?” She looked me straight in the eyes and said; “Patty I did time at the St. Louis County Jail twelve years ago on a drug charge and now I help with a faith based drug rehab program there.” She shoved the volunteer application at me and said;” “You are the perfect person to do this.” I knew at that point God was speaking to me through Maria. I got up the courage, called the jail Program Director, told her who I was and she said; “Maria was telling me about you, and that you might be interested in doing a Bible study for the ladies in the jail.” I said, “Yes,” and proceeded to tell her why I felt the need to call her first rather than sending in the application. Over the next thirty minutes I told her everything about my crime. When I was done I said to her; “So that is probably why the Sheriff would not want me to do a Bible study in his jail.” I heard nothing, but dead silence. I thought my cell phone battery died. I asked: “Are you still there?” I heard a one word reply; “Wow;” and then another reply stating; “I think you should fill out the application anyway.” I did and I never heard anything for six weeks. One day my cell phone rang; I did not recognize the number, but I answered it anyways. To my surprise I heard; “Hi Patty it’s Ross Litman. How are you? It’s been a long time. I hear you want to do some volunteering at our jail.” He was so kind and compassionate. Please keep in mind I had not seen him since I was fired from First Witness in June 2007. I said to him; “Ross before we begin talking I want you to know how sorry I am for what I did.” He interrupted right away and said; “I am not calling you for an apology. I forgave you a long time ago. I am calling because I want to know how you are, and how Gerry is. Did your marriage survive all of this and are you OK? I would like to catch up with you Patty. Can we meet at my office next week?” Can you imagine how I felt when I got off the phone? I was amazed by what God was doing and orchestrating. When I met with Ross at his office in the court house, I encountered amazing grace, kindness and forgiveness. Ross came out to greet me in the waiting area, gave me a hug and said he was glad to see me. As we proceeded to meet he looked me in the eyes and said; “Tell me everything.” He was interested in me and Gerry’s welfare. Ross never shamed me. He said he knew I was a good person who made a big mistake. We caught up on each other’s lives and at the end of our meeting Ross said he had no doubt that I would have a positive impact on the female inmates at the jail and approved me doing a Bible study. This can only be God! I am a felon on federal probation; I still am for another four months and I get to minister to the ladies every Wednesday night at the jail. Wow! Do you know what a privilege that is and what an honor that is for me? Since November 2012, Maria and I have had “big doors” swing wide open for us by the grace of God. How cool is that? I am grateful to Maria for being so persistent with me and sharing her compassion for prisoners. I love Wednesday’s with Maria and our sisters in Christ at the jail!
Amazingly, God has opened additional doors for me to do counseling with the inmates at the same jail. In September 2013 I was licensed in my state as a Licensed Professional Counselor, which means I can provide therapy/counseling. Another act of God’s Amazing Grace. In December 2013 I was granted the privilege to facilitate a Grief and Loss group with both the female and male inmates at the same jail. God had a plan all the way along to make a message out of my mess. None of our mistakes are wasted. I can hardly wait to see what He is going to do in 2014!
Happy New Year and may God continue to pour out His Amazing Grace on you and your loved ones!
PS. I think Maria and I look like the female version of Starsky and Hutch in the photo!