As many as 2 million inmates nationwide have access to tablets in prison. They use them to send email, make video calls, and download a limited selection of games, movies, and books. Now an audio Bible is included.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative’s annual report, approximately 204,000 women are living in U.S. local, state, and federal prisons today. But thanks to a women’s ministry called Courage For Life, thousands of them actually experience God through audio and visual technology downloaded onto tablets.
Imagine: an inmate named Susan slides her left hand into a dark cubby under a bottom bunk bed and pulls out a blue plastic bin. She now holds everything she owns. Included is a computer tablet. For the past nine months, it has been her connection to a world outside Cell Block 5.
When Susan first arrived in this maximum–security prison, she gazed at her cell’s cinderblock walls, pencil–thin mattresses and pillows, press–wood desk, and cried. The next 10 years of her life would be spent in this place—far from her two adorable children.
Susan removes the tablet and climbs to the top bunk. She keeps her head low to avoid hitting it on the ceiling. She pushes the power button and then loses herself in another world. It’s a world of hope, of possibility, of love, and of God. “She is Strong and Courageous!” reads the Bible study text that appears.
Scripture from the New Living Translation also emerges. When Susan activates the reading of Psalm 23, she hears through earbuds a woman’s voice; a delightful voice that sounds much like her mother’s voice. Gone is the conventional “voice of God.” In Susan’s mind, the older recordings featured a reader who sounded amazingly like the guy who abused her.
Chaos abounds in the holding cell down the hall, but in Susan’s cell, all is quiet. God is speaking, whispering in her ear, inspiring the healing and transformation of her heart, mind, and soul. She is at peace.
Courage for life
“We teach incarcerated women and help them develop and deepen their relationship with God,” says Ann White, founder and executive director of Courage For Life, which is based in Marietta, Georgia. “Statistics show that 95 percent of inmates will be coming home to our churches, our neighborhoods, and to our grocery stores. They are all around us and they are people just like you and me. But by the grace of God, many of us could have grown up in the same circumstances as they did,” says White. “We want them to come home—full of God’s word.”
She is Strong and Courageous is a 90–day devotional and is available on the Courage For Life website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and through Christian book distributors. The fact that it is also accessible to women in prison via personalized tablets is a breakthrough in technology, says White. She hopes it will eventually spread throughout the United States, including the Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory.
“Of course, we’re looking to establish connections with members of The Salvation Army. It is our desire to get this into the hands of every woman. Whether we are in a corps pew or in a prison cell, there are many of us who are in personal ‘prisons,’” White said. “We all need to hear God’s word.”
Courage For Life, now in its fifth year, seeks to overcome the challenges inherent in bridging the gap between incarcerated women and the word of God. “Many of the women don’t read on a high level. That’s a stumbling block for them,” says White. But that’s only the beginning. “If they are listening to an audio Bible to overcome their reading problem, they also hear the word in men’s voices, which for them is a trigger and a distraction because they’ve been abused by men.”
White says that, quite often these women have been scarred since childhood. They’ve suffered traumatic events that caused them to “really have blinders on when it comes to decision–making; they’re trapped in shame and self–condemnation.”
In order to hide their pain, many times they take and become addicted to drugs. Desperation often leads them into prostitution. For every woman in prison, as many as 1 to 4 children are also affected.
Focusing on Christ
“Codependency is a big problem, being codependent on someone else in their lives, following that person, doing what that person says. We want them to heal from that codependency and transfer that desire to the Lord,” says White. “We want the Lord to lead them from those broken places and allow Him to be the One whom they follow.”
Kathy Sherwin, ministry director of Courage For Life, is passionate about equipping and ministering to at–risk women through local ministries at crisis pregnancy centers, jails, and battered women’s shelters. She says, “Although they’ve made bad choices, and I don’t make any excuses for that, the women have found themselves with abusive men.”
White says, “We want to remove any distraction from the process of discovering how God’s word can transform lives, heal hearts, and mend the broken. We want to get God’s word into these women.”
To help accomplish this task, White’s team uses the New Living Translation, which is written in common language. “We also chose 12 professional voice artists who are strong Christian women and who come from different ethnic backgrounds and walks of life.”
The artists are enthusiastic about being involved in the project. “To be included in this ground–breaking experience is a fantastic thing,” says Tangie Ambrose. Daniella Rincon agrees, “I felt honored when I learned about the cause of this project.” Lavetta Canon says, “We all get ‘down’ sometimes; we just need that inspiration from God’s word.”
White says this approach has also resonated with men. “We’re finding that everyone can enjoy imagining their mother, grandmother or friend reading to them. God is opening doors to the prison system. Men and women are really connecting to this nice conglomerate of voices,” says White.
Spreading the Word
To date, as many as 12 to 14 states have issued tablets to inmates. “Of course, it is an honor and a privilege to receive one of these and you can lose the privilege,” says White. “But we are in the process of working with the IT department in the state of Georgia. Within the next 60 days at least 53,000 inmates will have the opportunity to listen to God’s word through these tablets.”
The tablets are specially manufactured by the JPay company for the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals. Its education program called JPay’s Lantern helps to reduce recidivism.
Developed in conjunction with the Correctional Education Association (CEA) and working with partners such as Ashland University, JPay’s Lantern is a cross–functional program that makes education accessible to inmates through a learning management system, JPay tablets, and inmate kiosks.
“We’re also working in the state of Missouri with Courage For Life curriculum volunteer staff to prepare materials that will take women on a journey of courage to change the course of their lives,” says White. “It requires a huge budget to undertake a lifelong project like this. Financially, we’re halfway there. The money is coming in from our supporters. Every dime raised will go back into this project.”
Currently, several books of the Old Testament are in production (Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, and Malachi). IT departments are in the process of uploading the curriculum to these tablets.
by Warren L. Maye
Go to courageforlife.org now and download the first fully female–voiced NLT audio Bible app, free of charge.