This is part 4 of 4 about Beauty for Ashes, a prison ministry based out of Kansas City. Part 1 tells the story of Gina Hanna, founder of Beauty for Ashes; part 2 describes my experience visiting the Beauty for Ashes Re-entry program (BFAR); part 3 shares the stories of women currently going through BFAR. Today’s post continues sharing the stories of ladies in the program. Names have been changed to protect their privacy.
“Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours…
Caitlin – A Healed Heart
“I was wrapped up in life – I thought that’s all there was,” Caitlin said. The abuse from her mother growing up and the hurt from two less-than-ideal relationships with the fathers of her three children left her wanting something to erase the pain and leave her numb. She took her first drink at 11 and from there moved on to marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.
“I was yearning for love…wanting something more, but not quite knowing what it was.”
In 2013, she was finally arrested, after sustaining a number of drug-related charges. When she got to prison, the first thing she did was spend 2-3 weeks in detox. During that time, she asked one of the guards for a book, and he brought her a Bible.
“I don’t want that!” was her first reaction. But since it was the only book she had, she read it. Shortly after that, she started attending church in prison as well, and then she got saved.
When Caitlin heard about the Beauty for Ashes Re-entry program (BFAR), she thought, “Ooh! That’s for me!” And it was. Taking the Oaks of Righteousness class through BFAR gave her a way to let go of the pain of her past and to become the person God wanted her to be.
“I’ve come to terms with what I’ve done,” she said. The emptiness in her life has been replaced with new passions for theatre and ministry. The persecuted church has a special place in her heart, and one day, she would like to become a missionary.
The redemption and restoration in Caitlin’s life is obvious. “I’ve been delivered from my addiction, and the hole in my heart has been filled.”
…‘For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.’…
Abigail – Living Free
Abigail is the mother of six children and describes her family as being like the Brady bunch. But sometimes the problems and stress of a large family became too much, and she began self-medicating.
In prison, she thought she had made some progress toward becoming a new person, but then an incident with a prison co-worker made her realize how far she still had to go. “I realized I couldn’t just keep living the same way,” she said. “I had to make a change.”
That was when Abigail applied for the Beauty for Ashes program and was accepted. Since then, she has taken many BFAR classes and hopes to teach one the next time they are given. The classes on dealing with depression and grief were particularly helpful to her, as was the class on self-esteem.
“I don’t have to worry about Satan tapping me on my shoulder anymore,” she said.
She loves the community that exists among the Beauty for Ashes women. “We’re all in process,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we love each other.”
Above all, Abigail tries to remember what Jesus did for her and for every one of the women she knows. “It helps me maintain my goal,” she said. “Just because I’m in prison doesn’t mean I can’t live free.”
…I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels…
Leah – Proclaiming Redemption
Leah was the only daughter in a family of six children. Her childhood looked perfect from the outside, but her dad was gone for work a lot, and her mom turned to alcohol.
“They both made mistakes,” she said, “but I felt hurt and abandoned. I was a B+ student trying to earn their love.”
Then she discovered vodka and its ability to numb her, dispelling her pain. She married a man with whom she shared a love for drugs and music, and they had a son.
“I’ve always been so critical of myself and my mothering, but I promised [my son] I would always love him,” she said. “Thankfully, he still believes in my love.”
She divorced her husband when she tired of her abuse, but the drugs and drinking didn’t stop when he left. Then, one night, she got drunk and caused a car accident that killed two people.
When Leah reached prison, she was broken emotionally and physically. Her petite frame weighed 200 pounds, and she had a broken leg and several broken bones in her feet. Her doctors were afraid she might lose her leg. However, she received medical care, and one of the girls living in her prison wing insisted on taking her to the prison’s fitness program. Today, she still has both of her legs and is a certified personal trainer.
That same friend who dragged her to fitness classes dragged her to church too, and she began studying and learning about God. After that, she heard about Beauty for Ashes and applied for the program. “For the first 2 ½ months [in BFAR], I cried and prayed more than I have in 30 years,” she remembered.
Her faith is growing ever more obvious to her family. “Are you gonna be a Bible thumper now?” her son asked her in a phone conversation.
“I hope so, son,” she told him.
Recently, she has seen signs that he may be softening to faith. “All those prayers you’re sending up for me? He’s answering them,” he told her.
Leah is grateful for the healing God has brought to her life. “I get to teach other people how to heal from their wounds,” she said. “The Holy Spirit is doing things I never would have thought possible.”
A year ago, she would have been too ashamed to share her story. But today?
“God has taken the mess I made of my life and given me a message for others. He does the great big miracles, but he also does the little ones every day. Now I have the eyes to see them.”
…For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” Isaiah 61:7-11