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- Jeff hasn't had a license in years...
Jeff hasn't had a license in years. After leaving incarceration, he needed employment that didn't require transportation. He also needed an opportunity to prove that he had put his past behind him and was moving forward in life. He just earned his Driver's License! Thanks to Craig Penland, CEO of Eurolink Fastener Supply Service, for trusting our Landscaping team with all installation needs at their brand new headquarters set to open in early August! We are thankful for the many businesses and individuals who are providing transformational opportunities by trusting our team with their landscaping needs. Earning a driver's license after being incarcerated represents a significant milestone in the process of reintegrating into society. Not only does it symbolize regained freedom and mobility, but it also fosters self-sufficiency and independence, which are key aspects of rehabilitation. Moreover, a driver's license serves as a practical tool in facilitating job seeking, enabling one to expand their job search geographically and access opportunities that may have been unreachable previously. It signifies a concrete step in the journey towards personal redemption and societal reintegration, providing the tangible validation of the progress made and the resilience shown in the face of past adversity. Additionally, it enhances one's self-esteem and reaffirms their capacity to lead a normal, productive life post-incarceration. Ultimately, this milestone is a testament to the power of second chances, underlining the potential for change and growth, even in the aftermath of significant life challenges. When lives that are off track have transformational opportunities, we ALL win! If you are in the Greenville - Spartanburg, SC area and have landscape maintenance or installation needs reach out to Justin Durrell at firstname.lastname@example.org
- A Story Worth Sharing
God's ability to rescue and restore is unparalleled. When someone has hit rock bottom, why shouldn't they just give up? Watch this video to be encouraged, inspired, are reminded that nothing is impossible with God. JUMPSTART is building transformational opportunities for the incarcerated and returning citizens because when lives that are off track experience restoration, we ALL win.
- An Ivy League Ph.D. and Corporate Executive to Prisoner and Back
Imagine this: You head to work one day with a tape recorder taped to your chest, another hidden in your briefcase, and a third tucked away in a plain notebook. Your heart races as you think about secretly recording conversations with your bosses, your coworkers, and even your friends. Now think about doing this every single day for three years straight. This was my life from 1992 to 1995. I was working undercover for the FBI to expose the biggest price-fixing scandal in the history of the United States. I was a top executive at a Fortune 500 company, but I also was the highest-ranking executive ever to become a whistleblower, calling out the wrongdoings I saw. I was a whistleblower for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). ADM was the 56th largest company on the Fortune 500 list and was a massive player in the food additive industry worldwide. They made more than $70 billion yearly and had over 30,000 employees. You'd find ADM's ingredients in everyday foods and drinks, like Kellogg's cereals, Kraft Foods, Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi. I started working at ADM in 1989 when I was just 32 years old. They made me president of the bio-products division, making me the youngest person to ever lead a division in the company's history. Within three years, I climbed the ladder even higher and became a corporate vice president and officer. The experts at Fortune Magazine even thought I was on track to become the next Chief Operating Officer and President of ADM once the current president, who was 70, retired. Being a top executive at one of America's biggest companies came with amazing benefits. Between my salary and my stock options, I was making millions every year. I could use the company's jets whenever I wanted. I had a beautiful wife and three kids, and we lived in a mansion and sent our kids to the best private schools. From the outside, it looked like I had everything anyone could want. I was living the American Dream—the best of what the world could give. People would drive by our house and say, "Mark Whitacre has it all!" But what they didn't know was that, inside, I felt like there was something huge missing from my life. The reason I decided to expose ADM came down to my wife, Ginger. We both grew up in small towns in Ohio. My parents still live in the house where I was raised. I met Ginger in middle school when we were both in the band. We started dating in high school, and we were even crowned homecoming queen and king in 1975, my senior year. We've been inseparable ever since, and recently, we celebrated our forty-third wedding anniversary. In 1992, Ginger started noticing changes in me. I had been involved in price-fixing at the company for about seven months, although the company had been doing it for over ten years before I joined. This job took over my life, and she could tell I wasn't happy. I was always wanting more, no matter how much money I made. Ginger, however, had something to lean on—her faith. She had a strong relationship with Christ since she was thirteen. In contrast, I would go to church, but I didn't really feel connected. If you asked me in 1992 if I was a Christian, I'd say, "Yes, I go to church almost every Sunday." On November 5, 1992, Ginger decided to dig a little deeper into our conversations. She felt something was bothering me and started asking questions: What's happening at work? Why are you so intense? Why do you seem so unhappy? She encouraged me to open up, and that's when I confessed to the illegal activities at ADM. I explained how we were colluding with our competitors to fix the prices of key ingredients. We had essentially formed an international cartel, stealing billions from our customers, which then passed the cost onto everyday people buying groceries. I had been part of this federal crime for the past seven months, learning how to maximize profits in the division I was overseeing. I should clarify that ADM isn't a bad company. Most of the 30,000 employees go to work each day and do the right thing. But in the early '90s, some top executives, including me, were doing illegal things, staining both the company and our hometown, Decatur, Illinois, with our greed. When Ginger heard what I had done, she said I needed to go to the FBI. I warned her that I could go to jail and we might lose everything. But she said she'd rather be homeless than live in a home bought with stolen money. She insisted, "Either you go to the FBI, or I will." And I believed her. Within an hour, I was confessing to an FBI agent. But it was Ginger who was the real whistleblower. If it hadn't been for a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom with three young kids, the biggest price-fixing scandal in U.S. history might never have been exposed. What would you do in this situation? Would you turn a blind eye and continue moving up the corporate ladder, enjoying the perks and financial security? Or would you do what my wife insisted I do—admit to being part of a major crime and risk losing everything? After graduating high school in 1975, I went to Ohio State University (OSU). In my second year there, I got into a special honors program that allowed me to start working on my Master's Degree early. I finished my Master's Degree at OSU with honors in 1979 and got a full scholarship to Cornell University, an Ivy League school known for its strong science programs. I studied nutritional biochemistry, with minors in biochemistry and international nutrition, and got my Ph.D. in May 1983. But getting a Ph.D. from Cornell wasn't enough for me—I went on to get several more graduate degrees. After I finished at Cornell, when I was in my mid-20s, I thought, "Wow, I'm a really smart guy. I can make millions of dollars with this brain." I was super ambitious and couldn't wait to dive into the world of big business. I took a job at Ralston Purina in St. Louis, Missouri, and within two years, I got an offer from a huge company called Degussa Chemicals (which is now called Evonik) that I couldn't turn down. After another two years, they moved me to their global headquarters near Frankfurt, Germany, so I could get some international experience. In 1989, while working on a joint venture with ADM, I became friends with some of the top executives who eventually offered me a new job. Within a few years, I was lined up to become the COO and president of ADM. That was the plan until everything changed. After admitting to my part in this global price-fixing scam, I secretly agreed to work for the FBI. This double life was incredibly stressful. For instance, during the day, I'd act like a dedicated executive, helping to build the company. But in the evenings, I'd be working to bring it down. At 6 a.m., I'd meet with the FBI. They'd shave my chest to attach tiny microphones and check the batteries in the tape recorders hidden in my briefcase and a special FBI notebook. Throughout the day, I'd record conversations with my colleagues. Then, from 6 p.m. to midnight, I'd meet the FBI at different hotels to hand over the tapes and go through what felt like never-ending debriefings. The price-fixing meetings weren't just at ADM's headquarters in Decatur, Illinois. They were happening all over the world: in places like Paris, Mexico City, Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Zurich, and I recorded all of them with three audio devices. But the prosecutors wanted the jury not just to hear the evidence, they wanted them to see this illegal plan in action. That's where a special FBI lamp came in. This lamp looked like something you'd pick up at a garage sale. It was used to record video footage. I'd tell the FBI when and where the meetings were happening, and they'd make sure the green lamp was positioned perfectly in the room before the meeting started. It's funny, all of us involved were men. If a woman had been there, she would've noticed right away that this green lamp didn't fit with the fancy decor at a Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, a Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, or a Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. And she would've noticed this odd green lamp seemed to be following us everywhere. But greed can make you blind. We had guys stealing billions of dollars, and they didn't see what was happening right under their noses. For a meeting in Tokyo, the FBI was worried that the Japanese government might try to protect Japanese companies if they knew about the investigation. Several of the companies we were conspiring with were based in Japan. So for that meeting, I had a tiny Radio Shack tape recorder that used 90-minute micro-cassettes. Our meetings usually lasted at least three hours, so every 45 minutes, I'd check my watch and excuse myself to the restroom to flip the tape. I was the only one going to the restroom like clockwork, and no one even noticed! After two years of secretly recording conversations for the FBI, I was burnt out. I was so mixed up, I couldn't tell if I worked for the FBI or ADM. I was losing control, almost like I was having a nervous breakdown. One night during a terrible thunderstorm, I found myself out on our driveway at 3:00 a.m., trying to clear leaves with a leaf blower while still in my shirt and tie. Ginger heard the noise from our bedroom and came outside under an umbrella. She shouted over the noise of the blower, "You need to come back inside. You need to come back to your family. But more than anything, you need God in your life." "Who needs God?" I shot back. "I'm about to become the president of the 56th largest company in America." She looked angrier than I'd ever seen her. As she's said in TV interviews over the years, "Divorce was never an option, but murder was." She told me, "I'm proud that you're working with the FBI, but you're not going to be president of ADM. You need to understand that. Once they find out you're the informant, you won't be able to stay at ADM. You're bringing down the top three executives; they might go to jail. You're going to be fired when they find out what you've done. You need to accept that." She left me standing alone in the driveway, and I knew she was right. There was no way I could stay at ADM. But the thought of losing my position and income was unthinkable. I was hooked on success. I was obsessed with material wealth. I started thinking about how to protect myself. I decided to steal what would have been my severance pay, $9.5 million. But what if ADM found out? If they accused me, I thought I had the perfect defense. How can you charge me with stealing millions when you're stealing billions? And you're making me be part of this illegal price-fixing scheme! I felt invincible, so I decided to submit several fake invoices to ADM from companies that I owned, until they paid me $9.5 million. I didn't tell anyone, not even Ginger. I thought I was protecting myself, but really I was just isolating myself and causing more damage. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end..." Looking back, I should've talked to someone. In exchange for secretly recording conversations, I had been given complete immunity from any criminal charges as long as I didn't break any laws the FBI wasn't already aware of. But when ADM found out I was the informant in June 1995, they quickly told the FBI and the media that I had stolen $9.5 million. My cover was blown. I lost my immunity deal. The agents I'd worked with for almost three years could have turned their backs on me, but instead, they continued to support me. They helped me find a great lawyer and worked behind the scenes to help me negotiate a plea deal. They argued to the prosecutors that: I was the highest-ranking executive in U.S. history to become a whistleblower. If they prosecuted me, how would the FBI ever get another whistleblower to come forward? I made some really bad choices but made them when I wasn't in a good mental state. FBI agents who go undercover are trained for years to do that kind of work and they get regular mental health support to help them handle leading a double life. I didn't get any training or support. After hearing these arguments from the agents and my lawyer, the prosecutors agreed to a plea deal of three years. But there was more to the deal. There would be a sentencing hearing where the agents would make the same arguments to the judge that they made to the prosecutors. My lawyer thought I would end up with a six-month prison sentence. He called Ginger and me into his office in Chicago to discuss what he called "the deal of a lifetime." But I shot myself in the foot. I turned down the deal and fired my lawyer. I hired new lawyers and started preparing for a trial. A year later, I ended up with a 10½ year sentence. I should have listened to my Chicago lawyer. I should have been more humble. The choices I made when I was only thinking about myself were coming back to bite me. How was I going to survive ten years in prison? How would my family make it without me? I was starting to lose all hope. In the federal prison system, there's no parole. If you behave well, you might get your sentence reduced by 15%, but parole was eliminated in the mid-1980s. This meant I was looking at serving eight years and eight months in federal prison. What scared me the most was how this would affect my family. How would they manage without me? Would they even want to keep going without me? I had already missed so much of their lives. I was going to prison at 41 and wouldn't be released until I was 49. When I was secretly recording conversations for the FBI, I was up early in the morning and late at night, on top of my day job at ADM. I hardly ever saw my kids. Alex was twelve when I went to prison. Tanya was just starting college, and Bill was only four months away from finishing high school. My own selfishness and arrogance had stolen away the stability and security I should have provided for my family. Almost all the people in prison who were married and serving sentences of five years or more ended up divorced. I didn't see how my marriage could survive this. How would they support themselves? Ginger hadn't worked in over ten years, and we had lost everything in the ADM case: our house, cars, stocks, and savings. I wondered if I would ever find work again as a convicted felon. And on top of all these worries about my family, I also wondered if the four FBI agents would ever forgive me for lying to them? In the months leading up to my prison sentence, I was emotionally and spiritually drained. I didn't want to live and wasn't even sure if I deserved to. I knew that my life insurance policy would pay out if I took my own life, so in desperation, I tried to kill myself twice. These attempts landed me in the hospital and I spiraled deeper into depression. Eventually, I was diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder. At the time, I was living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, serving as the CEO of a different biotech company, not ADM. A guy named Ian Howes, who was the CFO in the same industry, had heard about my situation and my attempts to end my life. He was part of a group for businessmen called Christian Business Men's Connection (CBMC). In September of 1997, Ian reached out to me and became my friend. He genuinely cared about me and listened to my story without any judgment. There was something special about Ian that I hadn't seen in any of my other friends. He stuck around when all my other friends had left me. We would meet up, read the Bible, and use a unique study program called Operation Timothy. He made me think about the teachings of Christ – who He was, what He did, and why it mattered. Ian also made me consider my purpose in life, giving me a flicker of hope during those desperate times. He spent time with me each week, planting seeds of faith that would eventually lead me to Christ. During the time I was learning from Ian in 1997, I also did a lot of research on what other respected scientists had to say about God. As a Ph.D. scientist, the opinions of other scientists mattered to me. I was deeply moved when I discovered that Albert Einstein believed that God created the universe and man, and that he thought the big bang theory was impossible. Sir Isaac Newton, another scientist I greatly admired, also saw God as the master creator, whose existence couldn't be denied given the grandeur of all creation. On March 4, 1998, I entered federal prison in Springfield, Missouri with the inmate number 07543-424. I was later moved to a prison in Yazoo, Mississippi. Chuck Colson, who used to work for President Nixon and was the founder of Prison Fellowship, reached out to me and came to visit. Chuck, along with Ian Howes, became my mentors, sharing the same biblical truths that Ian had taught me. They said that God loved me and could forgive me, no matter what mistakes I had made. At first, I thought my mistakes were too big for God to forgive. But they explained how God sent His only Son, Jesus, to live on earth and die on the Cross to pay for my sins, so that I could be made right with God. I learned from the Bible that I could have eternal life by believing in what Jesus accomplished on the cross and that He was raised from the dead. That's when I got it! For the first time, I understood that being a Christian isn't about going to church every Sunday or what I did or didn't do, but about having a relationship with God. In June 1998, in a prison cell, I knelt down and confessed to God that I am a sinner, and I asked Him to forgive me. I told God that I fully understood that His son, Jesus, came to earth to die on a cross for my sins. That day, June 4, 1998, was the first time in my life that I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I finally felt peace. Even though I was just three months into a ten-year sentence, I felt content for the first time in my life. The emptiness in my life that I had tried to fill with money, big houses, cars, and professional success was finally satisfied. Before going to prison, I thought it would be the end of my life, but it turned out to be the start of my life. I trusted God to take care of things and put my burdens on His shoulders. Unlike the first forty-one years of my life, from that day forward, I would I would strive to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. I gave my life to Christ Jesus and started an amazing journey. Obviously, I was still suffering the consequences of my actions, but right away God took away the depression and thoughts of suicide and replaced it with peace, contentment, and hope. He followed that with miracles. First, God preserved my marriage. You will recall that 99% of those incarcerated five years or longer get divorced. I was incarcerated almost double that time, and not only did my marriage survive, it thrived. Over the course of my sentence, I was relocated 3 times, and each time my wife and children moved near the prison and visited me every week. The visiting hours in federal prison camps are from 5 pm to 8 pm on Friday evenings and 8 am to 3 pm on Saturday and Sundays. Basically 17 hours per weekend. My family came every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holiday for nine years. Ginger never missed. Another author who wrote a book about my case calculated the days Ginger spent visiting me: three years and eight months! Because of her faith in Jesus Christ, her love for me never wavered. Ginger has put a whole new meaning to "Stand by your man." No one can tell me it is not a miracle that I am still married. Second, God provided for my family while I was in prison. In August of 1998, Ken Adams, an attorney from a prestigious a law firm in Washington, D.C., contacted Ginger to inform her that companies such as Tyson Foods, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Kraft, who had won hundreds of millions of dollars in class action suits against ADM, wanted to assist our family while I was in prison. They set up a trust fund that allowed Ginger to go back to college to finish her degree. She became an elementary school teacher and was teacher of the year in 2007 in Pensacola, Florida. The trust fund also assisted with our children's college education, house payments and other bills. So the victims of a fraud case assisted the perpetrator's family. Thirdly, God gave me another job. Even with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, I would be coming out of prison a convicted felon and forty-nine years old. At 8 a.m. on December 21, 2006, I was released from prison. On the following day, I was hired by Paul Willis, CEO of Cypress Systems, Inc. Paul Willis is a Christian CEO on the Advisory Board of the Fresno CBMC, and Cypress is a biotech company dedicated to cancer research. For me to be hired back into this industry so quickly (and to be hired into a company with a Christian CEO) was indeed another one of God's miracles. During the past few years, I have also become very active in CBMC (Christian Business Mens Connection), as a Marketplace Ambassador, presenting my testimony at Annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast events around the country. In addition, I present my story of redemption and second chances at other business events around the country. Fourthly, how would those four FBI agents ever forgive me? Although I betrayed FBI agents and stole $9.5 million while under the immunity agreement, the government was able to successfully prosecute their case against the top executives of ADM. Shortly after I entered prison, some of the FBI agents contacted me and some even visited me in prison. They have become some of my strongest supporters. Today, all four of these FBI agents and a former prosecutor have written letters to the White House in support of a full presidential pardon. Over the past few years, I have often conducted training sessions for the FBI on going undercover, and in 2011 was the guest speaker at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. And during the past couple years, the FBI agents have conducted numerous TV and other media interviews including a 2010 Discovery Channel documentary where they "tout Mark Whitacre publicly as a national hero for his substantial assistance with one of the most important white- collar cases in history." These FBI interviews are archived on website: www.markwhitacre.com. I am certainly no hero, but I appreciate the FBI's support and count it a miracle. Of course, a presidential pardon would be welcome. I have paid my debt to society for my crimes at ADM: the 9-year sentence for my family and me, the humiliation, the loss of all our material wealth, comfort and financial security. But those nine years did not pay for sins, for my rebellion against God. In other words, the punishment given to me by the U.S. Government did not deal with the fact that I am a sinner who needs God's forgiveness. The Bible says, "It's your sins that have cut you off from God" (Isaiah 5:2a NLT). Because of God's grace and the price that Christ paid for my sins, I have been eternally pardoned. A signed pardon by a U.S. President would pale in comparison. God has handled my burdens. He has changed my life. I was once obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder and possessed by greed, and now I find great joy in serving others. While in prison, I taught inmates how to read, conducted GED classes and helped several inmates write letters to their family members. I was also able to mentor numerous men using CBMC's Operation Timothy. I can truly say that I was happier in prison making $20 per month helping others, than in the corporate world earning 7-figures for myself. But, understand that I live each day with the collateral consequences of my crimes – especially knowing that I put my family through nine years of hell. Although you may not have deceived the FBI or stolen millions, you are a sinner and your sins separate you from God just as my sins separated me from Him. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Good works, money, philosophy, or religion will not make you good enough to have a relationship with God or go to heaven. God is perfect, and we have to be perfect or without sin to get into heaven. Let me give you an analogy from the biotech industry of how we can never achieve perfection. At ADM, one of the main products in our division was lysine. Lysine is an amino acid used as a food and feed additive. Our competitors' lysine had 99% purity. We had an advantage of 99.5% purity and enjoyed the reputation of having the best lysine in the industry. We tried for even higher purity, but no matter what we did, it was impossible to reach 100% purity. In the same way, it is impossible for us to attain the perfection that God requires. But God provided the solution. Jesus Christ bridged the separation between mankind and God when He died on the cross and was raised from the dead. "God is on one side and all the people on the other side, and Jesus Christ, Himself man, is between them to bring them together" (I Timothy 2:5 TLB). Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father [God], except through me" (John 14:6). I was living the best life this world has to offer, and I now know that it was not life. On that day in 1998 in my prison cell when I asked for forgiveness and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, I experienced redemption and started living. It says in 1 John 5:11-12 (NLT), "And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God's Son does not have life." Mark now serves as the Vice President of Culture & Care at Coca-Cola Consolidated. Mark Whitacre's story is a vivid reminder that we should never underestimate God's ability to rescue, restore, and redeem. Everyone deserves a second chance, an opportunity to learn, grow, and give back. And often, it is in the darkest times that we find the brightest light and the deepest transformations. We are thankful for what God has done in Mark's life and that he is avid supporter of JUMPSTART's mission.
- A Leap of Faith: Paul Gaeto's Story of Mentoring Inside Prisons with JUMPSTART
Paul discovered JUMPSTART through Grace Church in Downtown Greenville, where he was offered three ways to get involved: Inside Mentor, Outside Mentor, or Second Chance Employer. Initially hesitant, Paul chose to become an Outside Mentor but later realized he was a perfect fit for the Inside Mentor role and volunteered inside prisons. Paul's involvement with JUMPSTART gave him a deeper understanding of the challenges currently and formerly incarcerated individuals face and the impact of long-term inmates on others in the program. Through facilitating JUMPSTART classes, Paul learned about the factors that lead to crime, such as abuse, violence, neglect, and poverty. Starting programming inside prisons contributes to the 96% successful reentry rate. Paul encourages hesitant volunteers to take the initial step and try volunteering with an open mind. Stepping out in faith, Paul's six-year journey with JUMPSTART reflects Matthew 25:31-46. Serving those on the margins, he seeks out people in need, offering support and love. A simple act of caring, like noticing an absent participant, can have a profound impact. Kindness paves the way for a better future. Paul's prayer is for participants to stay consistent, develop discipline, and engage in discussions. Surrounding themselves with supportive, spiritually committed individuals breaks cycles of crime and addiction. Each person in the program aspires to leave a legacy of freedom and transformation for their families, breaking the cycle for future generations. Sign-Up To Volunteer with JUMPSTART
- A Dedicated Duo
Fred and Terri, a dedicated husband-and-wife duo, have supported JUMPSTART since the beginning. They're true blessings to our Transitional Program participants, pouring in love and encouragement. Fred and Terri have made a significant impact over the past 15 years. Their passion for serving others shines through in their work at JUMPSTART. They strive for participants' success, whether it's gaining sobriety, reconnecting with family, finding faith, or ministering to others. "Love God and Love People" is a core value at JUMPSTART, shared by our incredible volunteers. Terri reminds us of Luke 10:26-27, emphasizing the importance of loving God and our neighbors. Fred and Terri embody this by supporting individuals returning from prison and helping them build brighter futures. The transformation witnessed in others is awe-inspiring, and volunteering has shifted Fred and Terri's perspectives. They see each person beyond their past, focusing on who they are now—a friend who needs support and understanding. Fred and Terri believe in JUMPSTART's future success and goals of completing Restoration Village, expanding programming in South Carolina and beyond, and empowering more lives. "Always remember to surround yourself with a strong support system that will hold you accountable, encourage you to follow God's plan, and feed you spiritually." –Fred and Terri
- Free From the Past- Chip’s Story
I am no stranger to captivity. I was imprisoned to alcohol, I was imprisoned to meth, I was imprisoned to the state, and I was imprisoned to my past. When I received my eight-year sentence, I promised myself that when I got out, I would not return to my old ways of living. This was the fourth time I had made this promise, but this time, I meant it. I had given my life to Christ years earlier, but I never felt like I had fully surrendered to Him. There still was something keeping me bound from experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and I believed the chains of cigarette addiction were the one thing holding me back. One day I was walking through the prison’s courtyard, when I overheard the testimony of a man who had asked the Lord to take his craving to smoke away. That night, I prayed that God would take the craving away for me too, and within a month, I had quit smoking cigarettes completely. Prayer certainly holds mighty power against enslavement. I heard about JUMPSTART through a flyer, and I couldn’t help but think it was God giving me an opportunity to keep the promise I had made to myself. Four months into JUMPSTART, the pandemic hit and inside programming ceased. I was determined to complete the program and continued the curriculum despite the pause. I persisted and graduated with the highest-level certificate you could achieve. I had experienced the transformation possible with JUMPSTART’s program, and I wanted my peers to experience it too. I tore the application out of the back of my curriculum book and made copies to give to my friends. I refused to give up on convincing my peers to join me, and now there are at least five of my former cellmates with me in JUMPSTART’s transitional outside program. Before I left prison, I made a goal to accomplish three things: to be a part of a good church, to be of service to others, and to find employment with a nurturing environment. Just months into the outside program, I am an usher at a church I love, and I serve those in my community weekly through mission work. The pastor of my church personally offered me a job to work at his thrift store, and I am blessed to work with people who challenge me daily to grow in my relationship with Christ. Everything I have, I owe to the God who sets the captives free. I am four years clean from all that once imprisoned me, including myself. God opened the door to my freedom, and JUMPSTART has helped me stay true to my promise of never going back to being the man that I used to be. With my eyes set on Christ, I am a prisoner no more.
- A New Beginning- Darius’ Story
Let me begin by saying that I’m fully aware that I am responsible for the choices I’ve made, and I’m not sharing my story because I want sympathy. I’m sharing because I believe that when we take the time to learn one another’s stories, we understand each other better, and this makes our world a better place. I spent most of my childhood in foster care. I was often locked in a room by myself, and most would say that I suffered mental and emotional neglect as a young child. Without a good support system, I really struggled to fit in as a teenager. I often felt like I didn’t fit in and that I wasn’t wanted. School was really challenging for me, and my grades were often well below average. Eventually, I was adopted out of the foster care system, but it would take a while before I learned to receive love when it is given. Because of my insecurities and struggles in school, I was easily influenced to explore the street-life. I became involved with the wrong people and activities. One day I got in a fight with my mother who adopted me, and I let anger take control. I poured gasoline all over the house and was going to set it on fire. I’m thankful I was stopped before I could burn it down. I was arrested and placed into South Carolina’s Shock Incarceration Program. This intentional, 90-day program stresses the development of personal responsibility and helps young offenders prepare for reintegration into the community. Upon my release from incarceration, I was able to join JUMPSTART’s transitional program. I knew that a door of opportunity was being opened for me, and I owed it to myself, the family who adopted me, and those who make JUMPSTART possible, to give it my all. I want to live up to my potential. I am now 20 years old, and I am doing better now than I ever have before. I’m proud to have the opportunity to work hard at Cracker Barrel. I have fun on a basketball team, and I’m part of a church family where I get the privilege of serving on the praise team. I know God did not create me to be neglected or forgotten. He didn’t create me to be a curse to the community as I was in the past, but to be a blessing. I was uniquely molded and shaped by God for a purpose, and I am giving my best to see God’s purpose fulfilled in my life. I’m thankful for everyone who helps make second chances possible.
- All Are Worthy of Redemption through Christ – Karen Underwood
Karen Underwood is no stranger to prison ministry. Before coming to South Carolina, she worked for a prison ministry in Phoenix and longed for a like-minded prison outreach program. After searching the internet, Karen came across JUMPSTART. Though their mission was compelling, at first glance, she did not know if it was the place for her. Soon after this, Grace Church Greenville, SC hosted JUMPSTART to talk about their program, and at the end, the congregation was invited to join them in their mission as volunteers. This talk validated JUMPSTART’s authenticity and led Karen to sign-up with the ministry. Starting at JUMPSTART as a volunteer in the South Carolina Department of Corrections at Leath with 65 women, Karen found her heart growing to love these women and recognize them as people who are just like her. After a couple of years of volunteer work, Karen was asked to come in and work as support staff a few days a week. Eventually, the days increased, and the role expanded. She now serves JUMPSTART in the role of Transitional Program Director. This position entails many things but can be narrowed down to two main categories: case management and operations. From beginning to serve participants when they apply for the Outside Program until they graduate, Karen is works with these men and women to help them reach their potential. Karen does it all with a smile on her face and a heart full of passion. To Karen, JUMPSTART means many things. She loves the idea of redemption – that one can serve their time and the Lord can come in and flip their life around, allowing one to live an authentic life again. Not only does she witness redemption every day, but she also gets to witness and feel love. Karen sees these individuals for their humanity and potential, not for the actions that led to their incarceration. Getting to see redeemed lives and people doing well at JUMPSTART is what means the most to Karen. She wishes more in the community would recognize that the participants in the program are worthy of this redemption and love, saying, “I wish more people would see the people who come to us as people who have value. The Lord values them; they are precious and have worth.”
- Restored through Faith – Scott’s Story
Growing up in Spartanburg, I was very involved with my church and our youth group. I felt a strong connection with God. As I got a little older, I felt like I could make my own decisions and not include God in the process. I turned to alcohol and drugs, allowing those substances to influence my choices rather than letting God lead me. This lifestyle went on for 25 years. I had forgotten entirely what God’s love felt like to me. I had replaced God’s love with my addictive lifestyle. I ended up going to prison in March of 2018 for a felony DUI resulting in death. My lifestyle—riddled with addiction and a series of bad choices—had finally brought me to a place I never thought I would be. I was facing 50 years in the department of corrections, and God saw that I would only be sentenced to 5 years. As I was going through my time in the Department of Corrections, I had to find my way back to God. I had to allow Him to rebuild my mind, body, and soul brick by brick. As the years went by, I was able to rebuild my relationship with God and allow Him to grow my faith and my love for Him. Today I complete each day putting God first and allowing Him to show me His grace and the love He has for me. I am very grateful for a second chance in life and my awesome relationship with God. Going to prison was the best thing for me. I needed to be broken and rebuilt. I am thankful to JUMPSTART ministry for being a part of rebuilding my life. I knew I needed a big support system coming out of prison, and I get that every day with God’s love and the JUMPSTART ministry.
- God’s Perfect Plan: William’s Story
William Scarpitti has been a part of JUMPSTART for nearly ten years. He was a clerk in the Chaplain’s office and served as a table leader following his completion of the inside program. When William was released in December after almost seventeen years spent behind bars, he thought his next move would be to live in a local pastor’s home. However, God had greater plans in mind for William. Once William arrived at the home for the JUMPSTART Outside Program, he knew without a doubt that he was where he was supposed to be. When he looked around, he realized he knew every single person that was there with him. To him, “JUMPSTART is family; it is a community. It is accountability and responsibility. I wish everyone in the same situation I was in knew this and could experience the love that JUMPSTART and Christ have to offer.” William was present one Sunday morning when Cary Sanders, CEO of JUMPSTART, delivered a message to the congregation of Second Presbyterian Church. William felt the importance of what Sanders communicated truly emphasized how valuable community engagement is in the lives of returning citizens. Sanders said, “People are going to get out of prison, and they will be on the same streets and in the same stores and restaurants as those in the community. If there is a community in place to welcome those re-entering society, not only will the community be a better place, but the revolving door of a life of crime and days in a cell can come to an end.” William believes that the heart of JUMPSTART revolves around the mission-oriented volunteers, staff members, and community who step in and invest in the lives of JUMPSTART participants. William’s goals center around getting stabilized as an individual and reinitiating a relationship with his daughter, whom he has not seen since she was three years old. His motivation to finish JUMPSTART’s program is not only driven by these goals, but from his previous, independent efforts that did not work. He understands the power of community and accountability in accomplishing what God has in store for him. William hopes to remain involved with JUMPSTART through JUMPSTART’s landscaping enterprise and continue to give back to the organization and people that have so greatly impacted his life. As William puts it himself: “Everyone is in my corner. They have all played a role in supporting me and my decision to continue with JUMPSTART. Looking back, I can see where God has been laying bricks all along the way. Back then, I had no idea what I was doing as I walked His path, but now, I can see the perfect road ahead.”
- A Servant’s Heart – Tom’s Story
After years of substance abuse, Tom is now 27 years clean of his drug addiction. He celebrates this accomplishment by utilizing his time to serve others and share the love of Christ. An embodiment of Mark 10:45, Tom’s desire to serve gives him a purpose far beyond his floundering efforts prior to his incarceration. Tom’s first introduction to JUMPSTART promised him the organization would help him in any way possible. Upon hearing this, Tom’s initial plan of returning home to take care of his mother was redirected. If the 40-week inside program could really help him turn his life around, Tom was ready to take the risk and begin his journey of transformation. When Tom told his mother about his new plan, she agreed that he do whatever it took to get himself back on his feet before returning home. Tom persisted in completing the inside program and enjoyed it so much that he served as a table leader for two years following his graduation. Though rewarding, Tom also found this role to be the most challenging part of his journey with JUMPSTART. He cared about his peers and wanted them to get the most out of their participation in the program. By holding those in his group accountable, he aimed to ensure the hard work they demonstrated did not go to waste. His dedication to those he served was affirmed when the mother of a man Tom discipled personally thanked him for helping her son stay out of trouble and grow closer to God. Moments like this attest to Tom’s purpose and fuel his desire for serving others. In June of this year, Tom completed his sentence and joined JUMPSTART’s transitional program. With his second chance, he has set three distinctive goals for himself. One, and namely the most important, is to serve Jesus Christ in everything he does. Goals two and three focus on his passion to take care of his mom and the older generation of individuals who need assistance. The true definition of a servant’s heart, Tom emphasizes that he works for no man, but Christ alone. For those like Tom who are considering JUMPSTART, he says, “you do not know what you’re missing out on.”
- Not Forgotten: Kendrick's Story
It's easy to feel lost and forgotten in prison, but JUMPSTART gives us hope for a better future. When I first heard about the program, I had already rededicated my life to Christ, and I knew in my heart that JUMPSTART was the right path for me. The program has been a lifeline for me and has provided a non-judgmental space where I can form meaningful relationships. One of my most cherished memories is when volunteers came in and prayed for those of us in the room. They didn't know us personally, but they showed us the love and support that we desperately needed. As I continue my journey in the transitional program, my goal is to continue to grow into who God created me to be and help others along the way. Once I graduate, I hope to become a first-time homeowner and share my story with others. I look forward to volunteering with the Inside Program and showing others that change is possible. JUMPSTART has given me a sense of redemption, a new beginning, and a different outlook on life. It has taught me to be more disciplined and change my way of thinking. One of the things that keeps me motivated to stay involved with JUMPSTART is my father. My mother passed away while I was in prison, and it was devastating to not be there for her. My dad has been my rock, and he is so proud of the progress I have made in the program. I want to continue to show him that I have changed for the better and that I'm capable of doing great things. It's easy to write off those who are incarcerated, but the truth is that with Christ, anyone's future can be greater than their past. JUMPSTART has given us a chance to change our lives and become productive members of society. We need more programs like this that offer hope and compassion to those most need it.