Bringing the ministry to Texas prisons

Michelle Wulfson | The ItemCharlie and Judy Owens help inmates change their destinies through The Joseph Company Prison Ministry.

When Charlie Owens was first told by a fellow church member that he had received a prophetic word from God that Charlie would be doing prison ministry, he thought that it was not likely.

Now, Charlie and his wife Judy are helping inmates change their destinies through The Joseph Company Prison Ministry.

The program came into the works in 2011, when local pastor and restaurant owner Charlie Owens was asked to connect with Paul Lin, an inmate at the Wynne Unit who felt a burning conviction to learn about Christianity after reading an article about the revivalist movement “Jesus Culture” in Charisma Magazine.

Lin and Charlie met twice a month for one-on-one pastoral mentor visits, exchanging thoughts on creating a ministry for inmates to pursue relationships with God and change their lives.

The Joseph Company Prison Ministry came to being in 2013 from the Leadership School of Transformation at the Wynne Unit, with resources and support from the Bethel Church, Jesus Culture and Legacy School of Supernatural Ministry.

Charlie said that the name “The Joseph Company” came to his wife Judy in a dream. The couple found that biblical figure Joseph, had an inspiring story similar to what the couple was trying to accomplish through their prison ministry.

“God gave him a dream, and his brothers threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. He was a slave and ended up being the savior of the nation from prison,” The Joseph Company Prison Ministry co-founder and Pastor Charlie Owens said.

“We’re a prison ministry and Joseph was thrown in a prison, but because of his time in prison, he was actually equipped to change the destiny of the nation, and we believe that these guys have the calling to change the destinies of their families.”

Prison often times becomes generational, and the Owens note that although prison might run in a family, many of the men they work with want that line to end with them.

“One guy said, ‘from the time that I was a little child, I knew I was going to go to prison because everybody in my family went to prison,’ so someone was just like, ‘this is your life, this is what’s going to happen,’ just like when I grew up, I thought, ‘I’m going to college,’ that’s our life, that’s what you do,” The Joseph Company Prison Ministry co-founder and Pastor Judy Owens said.

Charlie notes that once a person enters the prison system, they adopt one of two different life styles – the prison culture, or to try to prepare themselves to become a different person when they come home.

“You’ll see the one that’s going to (adjust to prison culture) and they’ll get off and do violence and drug gangs and everything else, however most of the people in there, when they come out, they will not be harmful to the community,” Charlie said. “I used to think every one of them would be (harmful) and now I’ve met so many guys and thought that they would be an asset to our community or city.”

Charlie notes that many of the men are talented, creative individuals with business degrees, wood working and welding skills, many being artists, writers and musicians, however after spending a majority of their lives in the system, it can be difficult finding footing once they are released.

“They’re in their 40’s and their whole life was prison, so they have no family that they can actually look up to. That’s what we try to (teach) – how do you do life with the right core values, because they do want to change,” Charlie said.

Working with murderers and sex offenders, Charlie does not excuse past behaviors or mistakes, however he believes in their ability to become contributing members of the community that can put an end to a family line of a criminal lifestyle.

“What you have after a while are two victims, a guy that they grew up with no other future than where he is now … 25 years later, they can’t repent enough for what their history was, they can’t change it, but they want to be an asset to communities and families,” Charlie said.

Many inmates that he works with are appreciative to Huntsville and dream of opening businesses to help change the economy of the city, just as the Owens family has done through their family restaurant Five Loaves Deli, situated adjacent to the Walls unit in Huntsville.

Charlie can identify with the inmates he mentors and vice-versa, as he once came from a drug and criminal past himself, but has since changed his life by pursuing a relationship with God and is now inspired to help others do the same.

Charlie was always aware of God, however he notes that it is not the same as pursuing a relationship with God, in which an individual actively lives a lifestyle of making choices that fall in line with the core ideals of Christianity.

“We’re trying to bring core values to people and have a relationship with God on an awareness deeper than an intellectual awareness of God,” Charlie said.

“The core of that is changing what they believe about who they are, because they are not their history and as long as they believe that they are their history and that is who they are, it’s going to be the same thing,” Judy added.

Texas’ recidivism rate falls at 21.4% of individuals being arrested for a new crime within 3 years of being released, according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. This rate is considerably low compared to the national average of 68%, according to a special report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

TCJC suggests that TDCJ programs, volunteers and chaplaincy programs like The Joseph Company provide the “tools for personal responsibility and stability” for inmates to stay on the right path.

Beginning with a small class of 30 inmates at the Wynne Unit, Charlie now works with 160 inmates across five different units in the Leadership School of Transformation, as it is known within the prison system, however more wish to join.

Each class is currently capped at 50 to 60 inmates so as to effectively reach each individual. Having someone to work closely with inmates and champion them is vitally important and a larger class may mean compromising the quality of mentorship, however through the Leadership School, the men learn to be ministers and help their fellow inmates looking to change their lives.

“We’re there to help them change and empower them to become spiritual fathers to the other guys that are in the class too, like the ones that are just coming in. That’s what our program is based on, it’s not just like us going in and being the ministers all of the time, we’re raising them up to be ministers there so they’re actually developing the other guys,” Judy said.

The founders continue to mentor the men who have left the prison system as needed, however the Owens hope to begin connecting with churches across the state to help releasees find a church in the city that they will be moving to, that will help them with the resources and counseling they may need to lead a successful life outside of the system.

“We’re just trying to get the people a better starting place so when they go home, they don’t start again where they were when they went in to prison,” Charlie said.