Going to prison is a scary thing— for the person going, for their families, and for their friends. And while the harsh environment is designed to “encourage” them to become model citizens and reform themselves, the transition back into the real world can be a struggle far too great to overcome. As a result, countless individuals filter in and out of the prison system rather than creating a new path with a brighter future.
It was recognizing this cycle that first inspired Joanna Mack, Carolyn Self, and a group of other like-minded women with a burden to offer the love and hope of Christ to the women in the local prison—not only in visits with them during their incarceration, but also in their struggle to transition back into everyday life after their release. From this seed of an idea, a non-profit ministry called Grace & Mercy was begun in 2015 to welcome local women being released from prison and provide them with a place to call home and a chance at a new life. “Grace & Mercy began as a prayer in the hearts of many women...jail ministers, chaplains, and so many denominational Women’s missionary unions alike,” Mack explains. “‘Prayer is the Work,’ and each prayer cried out this need in our community and counties. We’ve married the best practices together with the principles of the Bible to create a program that is simple and easy. The hardest part of this journey is choosing!.she explains. “It’s choosing correctly that brings change, and the Bible says it this way—that choosing correctly brings blessing! We see that everyday at Grace & Mercy, and we continue to strive forward to choose the right path for our ladies and the future of our ministry.”
And that ministry has certainly been affecting a change. “Being at Grace & Mercy changed my way of thinking, and I can handle things in such a positive way now,” says 24 year-old Juanita Shearon, a graduate of Grace & Mercy who spent a year with them after serving 45 days in jail. Now in her own home and celebrating the fact that she has regained custody of her five year-old son, Shearon cannot fully express the ways that the organization has changed her life. “They showed me the love of Christ, and now I can show that to other people as well.”
“Being at Grace & Mercy changed by way of thinking, and I can handle things in such a positive way now.” - Juanita Sheraon
Now in its third year of operation, Grace & Mercy has grown its outreach exponentially so much so that the ministry recently purchased an historic century-old home in downtown Hopkinsville, which will house 25 to 28 women. However, the need is for more than just a safe haven to call home. Release from prison leaves the women with nothing of their own—no clothing or shoes, no belongings, no furniture and no job. “These women have absolutely nothing,” says Self, “but we’ve been blessed with an outpouring of donations of clothing, shoes, furniture, and other necessities to provide them.”
The outpouring of donations has indeed been great—to the extent that it outpaces the immediate needs of the women in their care. In order to hold and store it all for future use, Grace & Mercy opened Nearly New Furniture & More, a “store” providing everything that women transitioning into the apartments would need to establish themselves. “The store was the inspired idea of Susan Gardner, who is the owner of Rooms for Less,” Self explains. “We were being given furniture and household items as well as clothing, all of which was certainly needed; but we did not have storage or holding places for all of it. The store has been a wonderful solution, and it’s been a blessing.”
The principle is a simple one: women transitioning are given the chance to “shop” for the things they need from the store and use them while living at Grace & Mercy’s apartments. When they leave one to two years later, they leave with only their clothing, while the furniture, dishes, and household items go back into rotation for use at the store. “The donations are so frequent that we share with contributing churches when needs arise and sell the rest to pay for two women who work at the store and support general operations.”
Providing work is another facet of the ministry, whether the women work at the store or spend time making, packing, or marketing the gourmet selection of homemade fudge sold by Grace & Mercy.
As it continues its mission, Grace & Mercy gains greater notice for its impact in the community, recently even hosting a fundraising concert and speaking engagement by John Carter Cash called House of Cash. “It was such a blessing to all of us,” says Self. It was a blessing undeniably befitting of this ministry whose work is a blessing, changing the lives of women as it shows them the grace and mercy they need.
Grace & Mercy is located at 1507 S. Main Street, PO Box 4045, Hopkinsville, Kentucky 42241. For more information, call (270) 987-9021 or (270) 484-1290 or visit www.graceandmercyky.org.