THE BLOG

From Prison to the Pulpit: A Powerful Story of Hope

02/06/2015 09:57 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

I want to introduce you to Rev. Darren Ferguson, a pastor who first found his faith while in prison for attempted murder. Rev. Ferguson spent nine years in federal prison, first at Rikers Island and then at Sing Sing in New York, where Darren and I met. I had agreed to an invitation to discuss my book, The Soul of Politics, which the inmates had been reading. When I inquired about when the prisoners wanted me to come to Sing Sing, the answer came back from a young brother: "Well, we're free most nights. We're kind of a captive audience here."

One night, I spent several hours with 50 of those men in a room deep inside the bowels of that tough prison. We had rigorous discussion about the book and how faith must be applied to the fundamental issues of injustice in our time. I will never forget the comment of one of those young inmates. "Reverend, almost all of us in this prison are from about four or five neighborhoods in New York City. It's like a train that begins in your neighborhood. You get on when you are 9 or 10 years old, and the train ends up here -- at Sing Sing." I remember the testimony and promise of a young prisoner that night who then told me, "But I have been converted, and when I get out of here, I am going to go back to those neighborhoods and stop that train."

Two years later, I was again in New York to speak at a big town meeting on overcoming poverty. And there, up front, was that same young man I had met on that unforgettable night at Sing Sing: Darren Ferguson. He was now back home trying to stop that train. Darren has become an ally, partner, brother, and dear friend. And I want you to hear his whole story. It's one of mass incarceration and the broken criminal justice system, but it's also a story of hope -- and it has the power to inform and change.

Watch the video and share it. Then download the free resource to go a step further and talk about Darren's story and what it means for people of faith and conscience.

Let me tell you why I am so hopeful about what this story and following discussion could help us all to do. Last June, Sojourners hosted The Summit: World Change Through Faith and Justice in Washington, D.C. One of our key areas of focus was mass incarceration and America's racialized criminal justice system. And this was all before Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. The United States contains 5 percent of the world's population, and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Statistics on mass incarceration and our criminal justice system also reveal a startling racial disparity: One out of every 15 African-American men and 1 in 36 Hispanic men in the United States are currently incarcerated. Meanwhile, only 1 in every 106 white men are behind bars. Black men have a one in three chance of being incarcerated at some point in their lives. The Summit featured experts in this field and leaders in the movement. But perhaps the most powerful speaker on this topic was Rev. Darren Ferguson, who shared his testimony of how he came to his faith and issued a powerful call for Christians to get involved in reforming our broken criminal justice system.

In the wake of The Summit 2014, Sojourners has been releasing videos and discussion guides based on the key issues that were addressed at this event. A few months ago, we shared powerful stories and discussion guides about gun violence. This week, we are proud to present our resource on mass incarceration and the criminal justice system.

From pastors and church leaders all over the country, I hear the need for tools to talk about issues of racism, mass incarceration, and the criminal justice system. Just like immigration reform, mass incarceration and the need to change our criminal justice system are sparking another movement -- especially after the parable of Ferguson woke up the country.

This dynamic resource is a great place to start. It is a tool to stir new conversations in our churches and beyond. It provides a solid beginning with both strong theological foundations and a framework of facts and critical information that can undergird new ministries and movements. And the dynamic and moving testimony of Darren Ferguson is such a compelling message that can be used in reaching out to many more people.

It is our hope that this story and discussion guide will inspire you to get involved in your congregation and community in the struggle for a more just criminal justice system. Take a look -- I know you will be moved and motivated to get involved.​

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Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God's Side, is available now.