How My Stereotype of Ex-Convicts Was Blown to Bits

Christianity Today President and CEO shares the joys and challenges of post-prison ministry.
How My Stereotype of Ex-Convicts Was Blown to Bits
Image: Jim Whitmer
Radical Time Out brings former convicts and mentors together weekly at Glen Ellyn Bible Church in the Chicago suburbs.

I might never have become concerned about the physical, emotional, and spiritual condition of people leaving prison had not a long-time friend of mine made it his personal mission to drive me crazy.

With unrelenting persistence, Jim called me week after week for at least six months, describing the latest meeting of a local evening program known as Radical Time Out (RTO).

He was particularly enthusiastic about the evangelistic exploits of RTO’s founder—and, it seemed, force of nature—Manny Mill. (In this article I will follow the universal practice at RTO, rooted in its powerful sense of family, of calling one another by first names.) Born in Cuba, Manny had fallen victim to his mother’s passionate prayers and accepted Christ in Caracas, Venezuela, while running from the FBI on charges of interstate transportation of stolen property. Now, Jim told me, he was a champion for Christ, redemption, and justice—not just for offenders, but for those on all sides of the courtroom.

Whether it was the movement of the Spirit or my selfish desire to get my friend Jim off my back (and off my phone), I joined him at RTO on a Thursday night in October 2013. I’ve been attending ever since.

What began as a Bible study attended by eight men has become an ever-expanding, ever-more-diverse community that now numbers over 100 one-time murderers, rapists, thieves, substance abusers, and gangbangers. Alongside them are mothers, sisters, and fathers whose family members are behind bars—some for life. And to round things out, there are some run-of-the-mill sinners like me—whose media-driven stereotypes of “ex-felons” have been blown to bits.

They come for support and a place where they will not ...

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