McDowell Technical Community College

Freedom to Hope      

by Marlene Houk

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

“Every dollar we had went to buying drugs,” Julie says. “We used to be a family involved in sports with two young boys, but now we’d sold our house, our car, everything to finance our drug addiction.” Years later, destitute, homeless, and desperate, Julie met someone at a women’s shelter who said, “You’ve got to go to Freedom Life.”

Freedom Life, tucked into the foothills of western North Carolina, operates in the perfect spot to serve an area of significant need in the McDowell community. They are committed to ministering to the complex needs faced by men and women who are currently incarcerated in jail or prison, who are in transition from jail or prison back into the community, or who have a criminal record and simply need help.  In seeking to provide assistance to justice involved men and women and their families, Freedom Life uses a holistic approach that groups their very complex needs into four main areas:

  • Spiritual
  • Relational
  • Mental/Emotional/Addiction/Physical Health
  • Practical (job, housing, transportation, financial, basic needs like food & clothing)

According to the website: www.FreedomLifeMinistries.org, in 2012, Danny Hampton, who at that time worked as a Prison Chaplain and Case Manager for McDowell Mission, saw the potential and need to create an entirely new ministry to help people whose lives had been impacted by judicial prosecution and incarceration. Six years later, this faith-based solution to addiction and reentry offers amazing results of freedom to hope.

Freedom Life offers “Life Plan” development and guidance that includes multiple levels of engagement depending upon a person’s own commitment to their life transition and transformational need. The plan may be as simple as a hot meal and room for the night or as involved as addressing all four areas of need mentioned above at the same time.  In Julie’s journey, her Life Plan included faith. She says, “I wake up every morning thanking God because Freedom Life has pulled me out of the pit.” Julie works full-time, a new experience since twelve years ago when she became an addict. She now owns a car, and has a place to live.

Freedom Life provides personal and pastoral guidance, resources, and hope. The results may vary from managing others in the process of recovery and reentry through workforce development to singing in the music outreach team or working outdoor festivals. Some have regained custody of their children. Planning toward new and transformed lives offers hope to all. Many individuals are living proof that the program works and goes beyond expectations.

Chris relates his experience to Freedom Life. “I was in a car wreck in 1996 and during that time I wound up getting hooked on prescription painkillers. Eventually that led me to prison several times. I prayed to God and asked him for help. That’s how I got to meet Danny Hampton. Now, out of prison, I play in the music ministry here [at Freedom Life] with Ray and David and Danny and Scott. It’s a feeling like I’ve never had in my life, better than any drug that I’ve ever had.”

Help and support in the form of practical areas such as housing resourcing, workforce development, and medical needs propel the clients to greater success. Counseling and support groups help restore mental and spiritual health. Bible Study and pastoral care lift depressed spirits. Freedom Life also provides grief counseling, addiction accountability, parenting resources, in-prison ministry, and preparation for reentry.

“I didn’t think nobody wanted me unless I was drinking or using,” says Kim, a participant in the Freedom Life program. “I was in jail around Thanksgiving of last year when God sent Danny [Executive Director], Melissa [Client Care Director], and Scott [Music Ministry] to me. They were my heroes. But this is a beautiful journey. It’s so easy to talk to the people at Freedom Life. They not only helped me with my medical concerns, but they showed me the right way to go.”

The goal of Freedom Life is to “build an interconnecting support network of churches and other community agencies and organizations. This community support system is the backbone of an overall effort to provide help and support to men and women both currently incarcerated and released.” Over eighty organizations, churches, and government agencies work with Freedom Life to assist justice involved individuals.

Not only does Freedom Life’s ministry affect the incarcerated and reintegrated individuals, but the non-profit also impacts their families and communities. Danny, a client, and Chase, his son, reflect on this influence. Chase says, “December 18, I got to move back in with my Dad, just because of Freedom Life’s ministry and the grace of God. It’s unbelievable now what my life is as compared to my life as a child. My little brothers are coming back in two months, and I couldn’t be more excited.” Chase’s father adds to his son’s appreciation. He comments, “It’s time to grow up, you know, and realize how much we are hurting our kids and the damage we’ve already done to them and try to change and reconcile. Sitting here with Chase today is proof that it can happen, but it didn’t come from just sitting around and wishing it. It takes a lot of work. I thank God for Danny Hampton and Freedom Life.”

In 2017, Freedom Life:

  • Ministered to 930 men and women in jail and prison and over 160 men and women in the community
  • Rejoiced over 270 men and women who committed or recommitted their lives to Christ
  • Led over 120 Bible studies and facilitated over 100 Bible based support groups
  • Provided over 2,500 hours in Bible based spiritual counseling
  • Performed multiple concerts in prison, jail, churches, and the community
  • Helped multiple volunteers offer mentoring/discipleship in jails and opened their third transition house
  • Provided over 20,000 miles of transportation and over $63,000 in financial resourcing
  • Attained a 7% recidivism rate among level three clients (Recidivism is the likelihood that the person will commit another crime: the lower the number, the more successful the program.)

 

Freedom Life participates in statewide efforts to reduce recidivism. They work with the State Reentry Council Collaborative and established a local McDowell Reentry Council in November of 2018. They also work regionally to help surrounding counties develop Reentry Council capacity.  In an incredible, God-sent decision in September of this year, the federal government awarded Freedom Life $ 500,000 for their Second Chance Act grant, one of only eleven national awards. Along with other local grants such as the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, regional and state grants such as the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation and Melvin R. Lane, this federal grant will enable the organization to facilitate the recovery and reentry of even more candidates.

Julie’s two sons, caught in the life of addiction through their mother, have now started on the journey back to health and freedom through Freedom Life. She says, “It’s been an amazing journey. I learned how to apply the Bible to my life through Freedom Life. I’ve cried. I’ve allowed those who care to peel back my life like an onion. And I’ve realized Jesus’s death and resurrection 2,000 years ago still works today.”

“I trust Freedom Life,” Monica, another client says, “I think God sent them to me.”

Jessie, whose past includes involvement with the justice system, agrees that Freedom Life transformed her. She says, “I spent time with Danny Hampton and Melissa and through spiritual counseling, I found a home church. It’s OK to not know what you’re going to do with your life. Because no matter what, at the end of the day, God knows. He knows the past, the present, and the future.”  By God’s grace, Jessie was able to regain custody of her two beautiful daughters.

Are you willing to labor together with Freedom Life? Volunteers for transportation, mentoring, office work, and other areas are needed. Monthly giving (online or by mail) enables this amazing ministry to continue the programs necessary to restore the lives of justice-involved individuals. Your giving is so important because grants that Freedom Life has been blessed to receive are only for a short time and sustainable income through contributions like yours must be there to replace the grant funding. Currently Freedom Life is needing to raise $200,000 to replace grant funding that will be ending in 2019.

Let’s help people like Julie, Kim, and Chris to recover and reenter our communities as productive citizens for God’s glory. Let’s help them to find freedom to hope! Contact Freedom Life at (828) 559-2224, email:  info@freedomlifeministries.org or go to their website: www.FreedomLifeMinistries.org