As I consider the work of Mighty Oaks, a vivid picture from my past comes to mind. In 2003 during the push of American forces into Iraq from Kuwait, there was no infrastructure, no bases or outposts and a logistics train that was being assembled as we moved forward. Everywhere we went until we finally settled in Baghdad, was the forward edge of conventional American troops. When we began our retrograde back to Kuwait, however, things were very different. I will never forget the thousands of vehicles and pieces of equipment that we passed as we moved south to begin our journey home. Our unit was sent to Iraq to take ground that would allow follow-on forces to continue the mission.
This is largely how I feel about the work that we do at Mighty Oaks. It seems that in everything we do we are the leading edge of conventional forces preparing the way for those who will come behind us to continue the mission. This was evident once again as we took our program, for the first time ever into a California State prison.
In 2015 we were approached by our ministry partner, Serving California, about the possibility doing a pilot program of our program for veterans inside of a prison. With an estimated 181,500 veterans incarcerated in the United States, this seemed like a natural fit. Since the Re-Entry Director for Serving CA has a strong relationship with the staff at Centinela State prison, this was the location chosen to begin. Centinela prison is one of 34 state prison facilities in California and houses roughly 3,500 prisoners from all over the state. The prison has low and medium security units as well as a level IV maximum security unit. As we began to research programs for veterans in the state prison system, we discovered that there is not another veteran-focused program in a state prison anywhere in the country! This would not only be a pilot for California, but, hopefully, for many other states as well.
Since the Warden asked us to have our first program on the maximum security yard of the prison, our team wasn’t sure exactly how we would relate to our students. Through a great deal of work on the part of the Serving CA staff, we had twenty-seven men join us for three days of instruction. These men had varied backgrounds with the one common denominator that the crimes they had committed were bad enough that they were in a maximum security facility. Many were listed as “Life without the possibility of parole” and at least one had spent nearly thirty years in solitary confinement. It was amazing, in spite of these factors, to see how God worked during those three days. Once gain it was made clear that in spite of different backgrounds and life decisions, what we all have in common is the need for an authentic relationship with Christ. As we ended our time together the inmates each had an opportunity to talk about the impact the program had on them. It was a blessing to hear many talk about the profound impact that understanding a Biblical model for life had on their understanding of their past as well as their future. It is our prayer that the lessons learned would put these men in a position where they could change their legacy and impact others for good.
Once again, Mighty Oaks had the opportunity to “take ground” for the Kingdom of God! Our hope is that many others would come alongside and continue the mission of pointing the most broken among us to an authentic relationship with Christ!