My congregation, Deerfoot Church of Christ, started a prison ministry over forty years ago. My husband, Chuck Spitzley, moved to the Birmingham area in 1990, and soon after he was baptized. I met Chuck at church, and he asked me one Sunday what I was doing that afternoon. I said “….nothing,” and he let me know that he was going to preach at the Women’s Work Release that afternoon. When he asked if I would like to go with him, I said “yes!,” even though I had no idea what the program was like.
I came into the room and sat in the middle of all of the women there, and I felt very comfortable; I wasn’t afraid at all. Later, Chuck told me that he looked down at me, in a sea of white jumpsuits, and told himself “I’M GOING TO MARRY THAT GAL!” We did marry, and after our boys were out of school, I started teaching in the ministry.
We had three to four classes at a time, with about six teachers, and several folks that came just to support us. I was a teacher’s aide for a while and helped with small tasks, such as grading papers and attendance. After a few years, two of the teachers retired and two moved away, which left only Chuck to teach. He had a Monday evening class and a Thursday morning class at St. Clair Correctional Facility, and several men would also go to St. Clair twice a month to host church services. There were two classes for women on Monday nights, and when one of the classes lost its teacher, I was placed into a new role. I had another lady who helped with the class, just as I had when I first started.
I had never taught adults before and was very nervous at first. The most I had ever taught was a Bible class at church for 8th grade girls. After several months, though, I had one inmate say “Miss Robin, I just want to say, at first you were boring, but since then, you have greatly improved, and we really like coming to your class.” I have learned several different ways to teach in there and have changed around a lot of things since that first class. I’ve even had several re-take my classes since I first started.
New Life Behavior
These days, we teach the New Life Behavior courses. Each class has about thirteen lessons and takes 13-14 weeks to finish. The state of Alabama acknowledges the New Life Material, and the fact that we have been teaching it for so many decades. In my class on Monday nights, I give out stickers: one for answering all the questions, one for an extra credit question, and one for a bonus question. If they have perfect attendance, then they also get a gold star on their certificate. The ladies really love this, and they act like children in a candy store. I love to bring a smile to their faces, and they frequently bring one to mine.
We always have a graduation party the following week, with pizza, cookies, and sodas. We must follow prison protocol, and everything must be individually wrapped (except the pizza, of course!). Each lady gets two or three slices of pizza, a cookie pack, and a drink. We also furnish the plates, napkins, and trash bags. Each woman receives a certificate stating that she completed the course, with her name, AIS number, the name of the instructor, and the date. The girls get really excited about the end-of-class parties, prizes for different activities (such as perfect attendance or bringing friends to class), and even receiving a Bible!
Some are in prison for life, and others for just a few months; however, they all want a New Life. Most study hard and prove it, which is noticeable in the changes they make from week to week as the lessons finish up. The women are so appreciative of volunteers taking time out of their busy week for just an hour or two. They write us cards and tell us stories about themselves and their families, and we begin and end each class with a prayer. They love to pray for each other and comfort each other with hugs, tears, and listening. One common prayer request is to be paroled, but we include other needs they list for themselves or family members from a list they write during each new class.
I know this is not a ministry that everyone has the time to be involved with, but we do need your prayers and encouragement. If you’d like to learn more about the prison ministry, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robin Spitzley has been married to Chuck Spitzley for 27 years. Robin and Chuck started working with prison ministry in 1992. Robin is a mother of two grown sons and the whole family are active members of Deerfoot Church of Christ.