A Merry Angel Tree Christmas for Prisoners and their Children

( [email protected] ) Dec 24, 2003 11:53 AM EST

SHELBY, N.C. — Twenty one years since its inception, and Angel Tree Christmas still touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of the children of inmates.

Since it began in 1982, ATC – a part of the Prison Fellowship Ministries – has affected an estimated 6 million children’s lives through the participation of thousands of churches.

Prison Fellowship estimates that about 2 million U.S. children have at least one parent behind bars. Statistics show children with a parent in prison are more likely to end up behind bars.

"If we don’t teach them the love of God now, when they are children, we’ll be taking care of them while they’re troubled adults," said the Rev. Pat Tiffany, pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

"Without this Angel Tree, there is nothing I could give them in my present situation," said Stanley Petty, one of the inmates at the Cleveland Correctional Center in Shelby N.C.

Petty, who was arrested under a felony drug conviction, isn’t due for release until 2008. Because of this, according to Petty, his two children are suffering alongside him.

"I got twisted up and always have been in drugs. I’ve chased an easy life, and it’s cost me dearly,” said Petty. "I’ve neglected them, basically all of their life, I’ve been in and out of the penitentiary."

Nonetheless, Petty is thankful for Angel Tree, which enables him to show his love for his children.

"I think this is a positive thing that society has allowed me to do in order to help my family, and I’m grateful for it,” said Petty.

"It’s being a father that I can’t be right now," said fellow inmate Nathan Crawford, who is also serving time for drug-related crimes. Without the Angel Tree program, his two girls probably wouldn’t receive gifts, he said.

"They love it," Crawford said of the program. "They’ve been asking about it since before Thanksgiving."