*Some names have been changed due to confidentiality
One of the boys I became particularly close to is named Richard. He was actually my first mentee. He is very intelligent and has a great sense of humor, and we had lots of great talks and fun together. We actually read a book together while he was at Les Peters and talked about it every week. He lives in Jacksonville, and I went to visit him about two months after he was released. I met his family and his girlfriend and even went to church with him. I did not hear from him for quite a while after that visit. Then, out of the blue, he called me and said, “Hey, you are going to be a grandpa!” You are the closest thing I have ever had to a dad, and I want you to come up and see my baby! The baby was actually born at the end of August 2016, and we have not been able to coordinate a visit yet, but I will definitely be going up there to see them! The last time I spoke with Richard, he sounded like a responsible adult. He had a job and was looking for a place for his little family to live.
Diana was 14 when she entered CPGA. She had been using drugs since she was 12... mainly crystal meth. Both of her parents were coming to the end of their 8 year sentence in prison selling drugs and had not seen Diana since she was 6. Diana had lived with her grandmother and, when she was arrested, they were living in a tent along with Diana's younger brother who is autistic. The grandmother is a practicing alcoholic and until recently had a violent boyfriend that terrorized them. These two children lived in complete chaos.
Diana's parents were released from prison about the same time she was incarcerated. Her Dad visited her every single weekend during her entire time at the facility. He would call and talk to staff several times during the week so he could make sure she was doing well. Three days before her release, a judge granted Diana’s dad custody of both of his children. This had been a big prayer for her.
Diana’s dad stood up with her when she was baptized with the CPGA girls recently at Van Dyke. AFTER Diana was released from CPGA her dad and her brother came to church Saturday night. They could not stop smiling!! They were glowing! I recently asked Diana what she thought was the one thing in her life that has changed since she entered CPGA. Without hesitating, she replied “I have hope. I never had hope before. Hope changes everything.” This is a child that has love in abundance now and went from not believing in God to having a sweet childlike faith that she embraces.
What an extraordinary child she is! I watched her go from sullen and resigned to shining like a bright light as her heart responded to being loved. She was able to be a little girl again. I thank God for bringing this young girl hope. It changed me too.
Stacey was born to a mother who was constantly being institutionalized due to severe bipolar disorder. Stacey was in and out of foster care where she was sexually and physically abused. When she was 16 her mother gave up her parental rights and Stacey was completely lost.
She committed a crime when in foster care and ended up at CPGA for over a year. She was the neediest child I ever met – constantly looking for affirmation and any indication of love and acceptance. She tackled me every time I saw her with huge hugs. Every time I visited, she had new scars on her arms as the result of cutting or harming herself as a way of dealing with her great emotional pain. We talked about this often.
She did not want to leave the facility, as that was the place she felt the safest, where she got fed, had people that listened to her. It was the best place she had ever been. She wanted to get back with her “boyfriend” she had when she was ten years old and he was 52. She felt he was the person who loved her the most.
Stacey left CPGA in July 2015. She lives in Pensacola. She chose to participate in extended foster care, which means that she is still in the system and receiving that support as long as she is in school. She is no longer cutting. She is working on getting her GED and would love to work with animals someday. She lives in Pensacola and we talk often.
She is doing very well – has her own apartment and attends Church regularly!
Communication from a youth in our Steadfast Ministry:
Hi. I want to thank all of you. I was incarcerated at Lake Academy in Tampa in 2015 and I had a mentor. Her name was Ms. Martha. I never got to tell her thank you or goodbye because I was sent to Falkenburg Rd Jail in January of this year straight from Lake Academy. I was released from the jail in June and am now doing a lot better. It has been almost six months and I have not been in any more trouble. Thank you for everything that was done for me while I was there.