Speak Eagle

Derrick: Former Inmate Starts New Chapter

(Let’s pretend we’re sitting down for coffee and I’m telling you this story 🙂  Click the audio link above.)


Every one of us is a storyteller. We tell stories to friends over a cup of coffee, stories to our kids while we’re tucking them into bed, stories to co-workers, relatives, neighbors.

Some stories make us wince or smile, create a bit of interest.

But then there are other stories. Stories that sink deep into our hearts, unearthing preconceived ideas, stirring new hope, new faith, calling us to believe, to trust, to love.

Derrick’s story is one of those stories.

I first met Derrick last December when my husband and I were among the handful of “free-world” people who were

“Cordially invited to dinner with 52 inmates.” (Click here to see that blog post)


Derrick had a dark story of poor choices and had been in and out of prison for the past 20 years. More in than out. In fact, after one lengthy sentence, he was released only to be arrested 10 days later for breaking into a car. Ten days.

His story was following the story of most inmates.  In the typical American prison, 75% of inmates will return to prison again.

But then Derrick was accepted into the “Men of Valor- Jericho” two-year discipleship program.  Intensive Bible study, mentoring and spiritual training in which men who formerly had no hope are now meeting Jesus Christ and finding hope and love for the first time.  Less than 15% of the men who go through the Men of Valor program will return to prison.  That’s incredible.  A testimony, I believe, to the power of Romans 12, the way we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

My husband, Brian, was Derrick’s mentor.  As he met with Derrick week after week, it was clear that he had given his heart to Christ, wanted to live for Him, walk new, and never go back. He was transformed.

At the end of July, we get the call we’ve been waiting for. Derrick’s been released! A generous friend gives Brian a gift card just for the occasion, saying, “Take that man out for a steak dinner!” They celebrate as two free-world men.

Quite well, I must say.


The next week we pile the boys in the van and pick up Derrick for breakfast. “Hi Miss Heidi!” he says, as I move a booster seat over for him to sit down. Hope he doesn’t mind the cracker crumbs. And then we enjoy a crazy, noisy, messy family breakfast at IHOP, only made more unbelievable by a waitress who is deeply impacted by Derrick’s story and wants to pick up the tab.

The next morning he comes with us to church. Since Brian’s  been writing updates and posting pictures on Facebook, friends come up to meet Derrick, even tearfully, and when each one asks how he’s doing, he grins from ear to ear, “Blessed!” They tell him they’ve been praying for him, and he says, “Good.  I need it!”

Since then, he’s served burgers to the homeless at the Nashville Rescue Mission picnic,


helped our boys hunt for GeoCaches,


braved the heat at soccer games and won more than a few arm-wrestling matches- except he only uses one finger.


All the while, Derrick is preaching to my boys- how drugs can destroy your life, why it doesn’t pay to steal, and how one of the most important decisions we can make is to choose friends who want to follow the Lord.

I watch him and I watch them watch him and I realize- Derrick is a role-model.

And for me, the conservative white girl who’s had preconceived ideas about a tough-looking, black, former inmate with a gold tooth, God has blown the stereotype apart with glorious dynamite.

Derrick has become my friend.


Why does his story grip us so powerfully? Maybe it’s because we all want another chance to do it right, to be forgiven, to be loved.

Or maybe it’s something deeper.

Maybe it’s because deep down we all know we’ve been inmates.  Behind our own bars of legalism and shame and fear and addiction and people-pleasing and perfectionism. And while God offers His grace and frees us again and again, we still go back. Back behind the bars.

We do all want another chance. A chance for God to write a new chapter in our story.

The story of redemption, of grace. The story written by a God who pursues us relentlessly.

The story of the gospel.

God is the Divine Storyteller. He is the author of The Story, the story from which all other stories of redemption spring.

The story of our God who loved us so much that He sent His only Son- Jesus – who paid for our sin on an old, rugged cross and died in our place so that we can experience Life.

Free-world life.



P.S.  In my public speaking workshop Faithful to Speak, I taught how God is the ultimate hero in the best story ever.  Click here to go to my YouTube channel and watch it!

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