How Children do Hard Time

By Judy Mills

Billy Graham once said, “When a mother or daddy goes to prison it’s the children who do the hard time.”

I think he is absolutely right. Can we even fathom the despair and pain these little shoulders must bear and how desperate they must feel? I’ve witnessed, first hand, their downward spiral of devastation-- the emotional pain, the lack of basic human needs (food, shelter, and clothing), the grief of feeling unloved. And it has broken my heart.

There are 2.7 million children in America with a parent in prison.  1 in 28 American school-aged children have an incarcerated parent. How this must grieve the heart of God!

Angel Tree is a Prison Fellowship Ministry of Charles Colson where children of inmates receive Christmas gifts in the name of their incarcerated mothers or fathers. The gifts, help to keep the parent-child bonds of love alive. Most inmates are 150 miles from their children, or even across the country, and the children never get to see them. The gifts signify a parent’s love and concern for their children.  They bring hope and excitement.  As a result, the incarcerated parents are often reconciled to their families. 

In the summer of 1993 Pastor McCullough announced that a representative from Prison Fellowship would be at our church. Anyone interested in providing Christmas gifts for children, in the name of the incarcerated parents, were invited to attend.  From that very moment, God put these children on my heart and He put them inside Larry’s heart, too.  

Three years later we began a mentoring ministry we call Angel Care.  There were about 13 families with 65 kids.  These families seemed to have the most overwhelming needs.  Now, 20 years later we are still mentoring to these same individuals in a major effort to combat the vicious cycle of kids following their parents to prison.   

Our church family has faithfully served over 5,000 children these last twenty-four years. Other Nazarene churches, students from Southern Nazarene University , as well as individuals from other churches have teamed up with us in this ministry.  What a tremendous joy, enrichment, and blessing Angel Tree has been to all of us.

In closing, Billy Graham gave us another gem when he said, “Love talked about goes unnoticed; love demonstrated is irresistible.”