Jill Mitchell & Prison Inmates
Jill Mitchell: IF:Little Rock, AR
Jill is a friend, adventurer, passionate leader, encourager, and justice seeker.
How did this relationship begin?
I was meeting with a small group of women when our leader spoke about how vital it was that we should also be pouring into others at some level. She brought up a really neat point that she was leading us so that we could lead someone else, and that one day the cycle would produce the ladies who would eventually lead their own children. So I decided to start leading a group of high school girls. It was a great experience leading those girls for a couple of years until they graduated. After that I found myself longing for a new and different kind of discipleship role. I knew this would look much different.
I randomly ended up in a van headed to a women’s correctional facility to co-lead a women’s prison ministry. I have been discipling women on the inside and after they get out for a year and a half. It has changed my life. It is the most authentic and vulnerable discipleship relationship I have ever encountered. Outside of our Thursday night visit, we can only write letters. There is something profoundly beautiful about quality time and taking time to write letters back and forth. Discipleship with women who are in such a tough situation allowed me to see the amazing redemption that God has for us, His daughters. I will never forget Mallory, Lindsey, Shanetta, Anita, and the many more whose stories I get to be a small part of.
Were there trials that you encountered or was your faithfulness tested?
Many of the women in my group suffered very difficult circumstances while we were meeting. Often they showed up downtrodden, worn out from whatever the day held, leading us down a different road than the intended lesson for the night. Working through these trials produced bonding and a deeper relationship of trust. It is hard and exhausting to pour your heart into the lives of others, especially those who are suffering, but I have seen the Lord’s faithfulness and favor woven into each week of our study.
What does discipleship mean to you?
Discipleship means pointing others to Christ through the way you live daily–the words you speak, the interactions you have with others, learning about Scripture and the characteristics of God through some sort of community. It means living life together around the dinner table or praying on our knees through deep suffering or having grace when we let one another down.
How have you seen God change lives?
I have seen God change lives through developing relationships and teaching His Word. I taught a class about purpose to women in prison. The lady who I thought paid the least amount of attention came in one day with her entire workbook filled. She told us about how she “got it.” She really liked this lesson and believed God was good and working her current situation out for her best interest. She has written me multiple letters thanking me for teaching and praising the Lord for her new perspective. In the midst of her most difficult trial, she is trusting the Lord.
I still see Him changing the lives of Mallory or Anita or Lindsey who were trapped in addiction for years. They’re out of prison and, against all odds, making a way for themselves in a world that has hurt them.
How has your life changed?
I never knew how pivotal ministering to a marginalized community would be to my faith. I see His beauty from ashes. I see my own brokenness and sin much more clearly. I have a heightened awareness of God’s grace in my story. I will never see marginalized communities the same way. These women in prison are my friends; they have a name, a story and a family. They have taught me so much and I can no longer live in blissful ignorance, shielded from the struggles in the world.
Watch a captioned version of today's video here: https://vimeo.com/175665869