Restoring Lives Affected by Incarceration
Restoration of people and meeting their needs is the heart of God. He has given us everything to participate with Him in His divine purpose.
Matt. 25:26 “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners."
“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those that are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous."
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
VIDEO: Tar Heel of the Week Michael Shank, 59, of Cary, NC started his Pardoned by Christ ministry for justice involved individuals in 2004, helping restore lives affected by incarceration. Shank, whose faith helped him overcome his own past now speaks in prisons and jails.
Pardoned By Christ - In the News...
Tar Heel of The Week: A college cocaine bust put
Mike Shank on a path toward helping others.
By Marti Maguire
News & Observer
June 25, 2016 06:20 PM,
Updated June 27, 2016 09:21 AM
RALEIGH - Mike Shank was a junior studying biology at East Carolina University when he was busted for selling cocaine and sent to prison.
His crimes shocked his family and the Greenville community where he grew up, making the front page of his hometown paper. And while his years behind bars might have been different than most – he finished his degree at ECU through a study release program – the experience shaped his future.
Now a physical therapist by profession, Shank spends most of his nights and weekends working with people who are or have been in prison, helping them to find the will and strength through Jesus to rebuild their lives.
“I felt like I had ex-con written across my forehead,” says Shank, recalling when he was released from prison. “No matter who you are, that stigma is there. We want them to feel like they can write something else there.”
The nonprofit he founded, Pardoned by Christ, recruits volunteers to mentor prisoners across the state, runs family support programs, and provides housing and support for convicts in a nine-bed West Raleigh home. A recent donation allowed the group to put a down payment on a second Raleigh home that will nearly double the number of men the group can house.
These convicted felons Shank works with face a host of obstacles; most are broke, their job prospects dimmed by their criminal records, along with their ability to find housing. Some, such as a man who arrived at the home last week, are adjusting to independent lives after decades behind bars.
Mike Teasley, 50, calls the home “heaven sent.” He’s lived there for more than two years, but plans to move out soon. He’s working at a local restaurant, and recently received a scholarship to earn his commercial driver’s license, so he can return to his previous job as a truck driver.
“This has afforded me the opportunity to stand as a man and regain my independence,” says Teasley, who served 10 years for assault with a deadly weapon. He calls Shank a “true brother” who has offered unwavering support in both material and spiritual ways.
“Anything he can do to make my life better, he’s been there for me,” Teasley says. “I don’t have the words to describe what that’s meant.”
Prison, then redemption
Shank grew up in Greenville, an outgoing and athletic youth who played football and baseball in high school. His father, a music professor at ECU, left the family when Shank was a teenager, a disruption that he suspects helped edged him toward risky behavior. Always possessed with a knack for getting along with people, Shank was soon at the center of a social scene focused on drinking and drugs. In college, he moved from just using drugs to selling cocaine. “I was the life of the party,” he says. “It was easy for me to build my business.”
He started selling to friends, but as he widened his circle of clients, he was caught by an undercover agent. Convicted on his 22nd birthday, the shock of going to prison was compounded by the shame he brought on his family. “My mother and my brothers were devastated,” he says.
He was allowed to attend classes during the day, creating a surreal double life – a seemingly average undergraduate returning to his cell at night, sometimes studying in his bunk by the light that came through his tiny window after prisoners were ordered to turn their lights out. He served three and a half years, but his troubles continued once he was released. Even with high grades and recommendations from his department head, he felt he was being passed up for research positions because of his record. He took a job landscaping and started taking classes to prepare for a master’s in physical therapy – a high demand field where he thought he might be able to find work. After several failed attempts to get into graduate school, he ended up earning two master’s degrees at the University of Florida. In all that time, he says, he was still partying, and often finding himself unhappy with his lifestyle. After tagging along to a friend’s church, he was saved in 1990.
His life changed immediately, he says. He lost all desire to drink, do drugs, or even have premarital sex – a detail that elicits disbelief when he tells the story in prisons. He wanted to share the power of that transformation with those incarcerated. “No one when I was in prison told me about Jesus,” he says. “They didn’t tell me I didn’t have to live in darkness anymore.”
In 1993, he started spending his Saturdays traveling to Florida prisons with a group that played music for inmates. He worked the sound system and also shared his story for seven years. About the time he moved back to North Carolina, in 2001, he was given a pardon of forgiveness by Gov. Jim Hunt. The news made the front page of the Greenville paper, bringing his story full circle. “My mom had her answering machine full of messages congratulating her,” he says.
‘Trusting in God’
Shank started Pardoned by Christ in 2005, recruiting volunteers to conduct Bible studies and mentor prisoners. There are now about 30 such volunteers. Shank holds services at prisons every Sunday, and on week nights visits prisons and youth development centers. Family support groups help people who are dealing with the stigma of a family member in prison. His group opened the transitional house in 2010, offering the people they worked with at the prisons a stable place to stay as they regained their footing on the outside.
Residents at the transitional house are chosen for their commitment both to Christ and to creating a solid post-prison life. They stay for anywhere from a few months to a few years – until they land what is so difficult for many people with criminal records to find: a full-time job with benefits.
Pardoned by Christ connects the men with a number of local agencies, from donated food and clothing to discounted cars through Wheels for Hope and job training through StepUp Ministry and NCWorks. Local churches pitch in to provide mentoring and support to individual men.
“We wrap them in Christian support until they reach their goals,” Shank says. Residents who have jobs pay $100 a week in program fees, and agree to terms that include submitting to drug tests. They must be either working or actively pursuing work while they’re there.
With a second house, Pardoned by Christ will be able to house 17 men at a time. Shank says accepting Christ is a first step; changing behavioral patterns takes time and work. But in the end, the impact extends beyond the men he works with to their families and countless others.
“The ripple effect is tremendous,” he says.