Victory Faith Fellowship involves members in prison ministries
Story and photo by Nancy Hill
Challenges in his life led Fred Dent to become Spokane County's Angel Tree church retention and recruitment coordinator, and a volunteer re-entry mentor with Prison Fellowship (PF) ministries.
In both programs, mentors help those who are incarcerated and their families. Prison Fellowship is a Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners and their families.
Fred believes God brought him to this place in his life.
With more than 40 years of helping "restore" men and women who are behind bars, Prison Fellowship also advocates for federal and state criminal justice reforms to transform those responsible for crime, validate those affected by crime and encourage communities to play a role in creating a safe, redemptive and just society.
Although statistics are low because of the stigma of incarceration, Fred said about 2.7 million U.S. children have a parent in prison. When parents go to prison, children need someone to help them deal with feeling abandoned, lonely and ashamed, said Fred, who identifies with those feelings from his experiences growing up.
Most of his life he sang in churches and performed on stages in the United States and internationally. He grew up in Seattle, served six years in the Navy, went to the University of Washington and taught at Highline Community College in South Seattle.
Challenges from childhood affected him. Both his parents were alcoholics. His father left when Fred was seven. Raised by two older sisters and his mother, he said that even though his family looked good on the outside, dysfunction permeated it causing him struggles. He turned to God, joining the church when he was 12 years old.
"My faith has grown stronger along with my personal relationship with Jesus Christ," Fred said. "Jesus has always been leading me."
As an adult, he sought support from Al-Anon, a worldwide fellowship that helps families and friends of alcoholics.
"Through Al-Anon, I learned to 'let go and let God,' to allow the Holy Spirit to heal me," he said.
Taking time off from teaching in winters, he lived in Palm Springs, helping the Al-Anon program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center there. Fred felt his life was going well.
Years later, after taking part-time retirement, he was in court for something he felt he did not do. Fearing additional charges and the possibility of a long sentence, Fred made a plea deal to avoid jail or prison, but the judge threw it out and sent him to prison.
During 29 months in prison at Airway Heights Corrections Center, he noticed that people were released and came back on new charges.
"Folks would transform their lives, accept Jesus and leave prison with the hope and sincere desire not to return," he said. "With no resources, no way to connect to a healthy community of friends and no experience living the life they wanted to live, they were doomed to failure."
Fred believed God put him in prison to help those who were unable to make a successful transition from prison into society.
He learned that years earlier Chuck Colson, a former White House counsel, had a similar revelation when he went to Alabama's Maxwell prison in 1974. He spent seven months there for involvement in the 1972 Watergate scandal. In 1973, he became a Christian.
After his release, Chuck felt led by God to honor his promise to remember prisoners and their families. In 1976, he founded Prison Fellowship.
Now in 120 countries, it is called Prison Fellowship International.
After his release, Fred joined Prison Fellowship. He agrees with the ministry's belief that all people have value, deserve mercy and are loved equally by God. He first was involved with Angel Tree, a Prison Fellowship ministry connecting incarcerated parents with their children at Christmas through a sponsoring church.
Last year, there were 12 participating churches in Spokane County. His church, Victory Faith Fellowship, is one. Collectively, these churches gave gifts to more than 300 children in 2017. His church has 40 volunteers.
Gifts vary. Sometimes people's generosity exceeds requests. The gifts come with a gospel message and a personal message of love from the incarcerated parent. Fred said this act can help build a child's self-esteem by "letting them know they have not been abandoned, they are loved and Jesus loves them, too."
Prison Fellowship also includes the Bridge Church ministry, in which a church member mentors an individual for a year in prison, focusing on life skills and developing a re-entry plan.
When someone is released, a Bridge Church mentor meets him/her at the re-entry point. They work together, step by step, implementing a plan. The goal is for the person released to be accountable to him/herself and establish healthy relationships within a Christian community, said Fred, who also helps with this ministry.
He completed training as a re-entry mentor in July 2017. After his church endorsed him, Prison Fellowship appointed him to mentor a man. A year before his release, Fred learned his background.
"Through approved prison correspondence, we assessed his life skills, developed a re-entry plan and built a relationship," Fred said.
"In the meantime, I received a referral for a woman who needed a place to stay in Spokane to visit her husband at Airway Heights Correction Center," Fred said.
The Prison Fellowship support team found temporary housing. She moved into an apartment owned by Household of Faith transitional housing, another prison ministry at Victory Faith.
Fred met her when she became an Angel Tree volunteer at the church in October 2017. Her three children were nominated by their father to be in the Angel Tree program in Yakima County. Fred arranged for them to be served by Victory Faith. Learning that one child had the same first and last name as the man he was mentoring, Fred realized the man was the woman's husband.
When he was transferred to Brownstone work release for the last six months of his sentence, he began coming to Victory Faith.
"They were happy to be together. Going slow and spending quality time in the church, their relationship grew," Fred said. "The children became reacquainted with their father.
"With support and prayers, the parents worked out struggles, and are becoming a healthy family," he said. "Both joined the church. I'm sure a welcoming community is part of the reason they come to church, where their love for God and each other grows.
"By the time people go to prison they've lost almost everything," Fred said. "They are spiritually, physically, and emotionally bankrupt. When they come out, they may not have a family or job. Starting over can be overwhelming."
A Bridge Church mentor helps with daily planning, appointments, relationships and more, increasing the chance of success.
"It's about being there when we are needed," he said, "helping them stay on track with plans they set in motion before they were released. Meanwhile, some awesome friendships develop."
"The entire church supports prison ministry," Fred said, "including Saturday worship.
Fred mentors three men in the Bridge Church program, helps two who are applying for it and mentors five others. Fred's joy is seeing them succeed.
For information call 329-6909, or visit www.acts519.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2018