Larry Howard, a former drug user who now sings for Christ, led the opening act last week to Operation Starting Line’s campaign to introduce Christianity to inmates of 21 Southeast Texas prisons, from Oct. 1-5.
On Friday, Howard spoke to a crowd of inmates at Kegans State Jail of nonviolent male offenders serving sentences of two years or less.
"We plan to visit every prison in the nation by 2010," he told the inmates. "That's 1,800 state and federal prisons. That's the biggest church in the country — behind the walls. There are over 2 million people incarcerated in this country. What do you think would happen if they all started praying? That would be a lot of power."
Following a ten-year plan to reach its goal to reach every prisoner for Christ, Operation Starting Line is off to a good start. Volunteers and staff have conducted over 2,250 in-prison events that have reached over 500,000 inmates at 659 correctional facilities throughout 21 states since its inception in 2000. The ministry is a division of Prison Fellowship Ministries, founded by Chuck Colson.
Response has been positive, according to spokesman Mike Viesca for the prison system's Carol Vance Unit near Sugar Land.
He said 293 inmates are involved in the program whose participants have an 8 percent recidivism rate, compared with 22 percent for a control group of inmates.
The volunteers are the key to the program, according to Amy Allen, Operation Starting Line's Texas coordinator.
"They'll provide whatever services the inmates need. They'll do spiritual training, life-skills classes ... mentoring. When the inmates are released, they'll continue with mentoring, welcoming them into a church congregation.
They'll walk alongside the inmates; they'll be someone to hold them accountable as they get back into society,” she said.
"We just want to help chaplains reach those inmates who maybe never go to chapel."
On Saturday, Howard also performed during a 100-mile charity ride conducted by Fellowship Riders, a Christian motorcycle group, as part of Operation Starting Line’s Break the Cycle Tour.