Forgotten Man’s ‘God Pods’ Engenders Real Change in Inmates

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Forgotten Man Ministry 235 No. 1 A chaplain with Forgotten Man Ministries teaches biblical principles at a “God Pod.”Real change. A new attitude. Embracing the Gospel's "raw message."

The descriptions rapidly roll off the tongues of the inmates incarcerated at the Kent County Correctional Facility who've immersed themselves in the Forgotten Man Ministries' Biblical Life Principles Pods (BLPP), or "God Pods," as the inmates are known to call them.

Whichever term is used, the goals flow in the same direction: Showing men and women deep change is possible if they give the Lord a chance to operate in their lives, inside and out.

"I've been in and out, in and out of jail all my life, angry with God because I didn't know Him," said Joel, who is sitting among 28 other inmates in a God Pod. None of the inmates' last names were provided.

Putting God first

Forgotten Man Ministry cutline No. 2 Associate chaplain Evelyn Brandt interacts with an inmate."I learned I need to change my life by putting God first in my life, before my wife and my kids," added Joel. "I'm trusting in Christ to count it all joy in every situation."

Dealing with personal anger, understanding how to forgive and learning how to respect authority are some of tent poles FMM's chaplains, assistant chaplains and volunteers work to inspire in the Kent County jail inmates, as well as prisoners locked up in jails in 33 counties in Michigan.

"I never was one to ask forgiveness," said Joel. "Now when I do something wrong, I know I've got to ask for forgiveness. The biggest thing for me is the feeling of conviction. I know God is watching. I can't turn my back on Him."

More than a prayer and promise

Much is required of the inmates who voluntarily enroll in BLPP besides a cursory prayer and a promise to do better, said Bill Bruursema, head chaplain at the Kent County jail. Male and female prisoners are steeped in classroom activities six hours a day, five days a week for an average of 10 to 15 weeks.

What they learn has been honed over time, said Bruursema, which is intended to cultivate an ongoing relationship with God and help prevent them from being incarcerated again. Lessons taught during BLPP include how to improve parenting and martial relations, anger management, stemming substance abuse, learning how to forgive and grasping what God's grace really means.

"The single biggest issue is have you submitted to Christ's authority in your life?" Bruursema said. "If you have, these BLPP classes will take on a whole new meaning in their lives."

God Pods are held separately for men and women inmates. A recent classroom for female inmates included a white board with the words scrawled on it "hearing the Word;" "faith;" "obedience;" "presence of the Lord;" and "prosperity" written on it.

Digging homework

It's not often to hear a student shout the praises of homework but in inmate Judith's case, it's a full-on embrace because it is enabling her to withstand the myriad of temptations a jail's general population offers.

"This is not just a class where you go back do as the Romans do," said Judith. "We're really held accountable here."

The in-depth conversations and the Gospel are taught in a no-holds barred way, said inmate Melinda.

Truth is needed

Forgotten Man Ministry cutline No. 3 Jail inmates are steeped in classroom activities six hours a day, five days a week."We need truth in here, and we get it with the raw message of the gospel," she said.

FMM ministers only to inmates incarcerated in jails — not prisons — and have done so since it was founded in 1966. Jail inmates are either awaiting trial or serving a sentence a year or less.

But inmates say BLPP is giving them a new hope, a new perspective.

"We're a community of unity," said inmate Illiana.

Admittedly, it's a community that dissolves once inmates are released from jail, a fact FMM's chaplains and volunteers are acutely aware of.

Building bridges inside jail and out

And while the focal point of FMM is to minister to inmates inside the jail, the donor-supported ministry pairs inmates with two mentors who connects them to a church after they've been released.

"The goal is to build bridges from the jail to the church, to make connections of the life in the church," said Bruursema.

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Apparently, the BLPP program has credibility with the inmates. Those enrolled in the course have a 23 percent recidivism rate compared to a 65 percent average of those who don't, according to FMM.

"Some inmates see no connection between God being in their lives, and jail and the outside," said Bruursema.

But he's convinced inmates like Le'Kisha see their lives have new possibilities.

Confessing flaws to a faultless God

"I have my flaws but now I'm relying on God first rather than doing it on my own," Le'Kisha said. "I can see a real change in other people and they've seen it in me. I'm a work in progress."

Le'Kisha's insights resonate with Illiana.

"Change is coming from God, changing our hearts, our thinking and our attitudes," Illiana said. "Now we're asking God for direction. His will be done."

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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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