Sean, a student in Texas, gives a shout-out to Cara, the mentor who reviewed his fifth Crossroads lesson.
Cara, a mentor in Missouri, recently came to our attention when two students mentioned that her comments were especially encouraging. They asked us to thank her for her kindness.
We soon discovered that Cara can speak to the hearts of incarcerated men and women because she was incarcerated for nineteen months more than twenty years ago.
She became a Crossroads mentor in 2020 after her husband, Gary, started a two-year prison sentence and became a Crossroads student. Gary was recently released, and he has chosen to continue his Tier 2 studies so he can learn and receive encouragement from his mentor as he navigates the challenges of reuniting with his family and reintegrating into society.
Cara said her experience with the criminal justice system started more than two decades ago when she was the mother of two very young children and made a series of decisions that landed her in prison. Although she grew up in the Church, the concept of a personal relationship with God didn’t become real to her until she was behind bars.
“When I went to prison, I felt God gave me the time to learn more and show me His love,” said Cara. “I wouldn’t wish prison on anyone, but a lot of good came out of it in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I had not walked that path.”
She said her two oldest children have few memories of the time she was away from them, and her youngest child, born several years after her release, knew nothing about that period of her life until recently.
While Cara was incarcerated, she discovered that she had always felt a burden of pretending to be someone she was not. Behind bars with other convicted people, she could be honest about her shortcomings.
“I didn’t have to pretend to be perfect with them in a way you just can’t on the outside,” she said. “So, I felt that, on the inside, I could really share myself. On the outside, it is very hard because I don’t feel like people see what God sees. They only see the horrible things I did.”
She had to relive her experience of pain, fear, stigma, and isolation when Gary’s crimes hit the local newspaper in their small town. After Gary went to prison, she found a new church home in a neighboring city, where she and her youngest child feel safe and supported. The church is large enough that she can be somewhat anonymous, and no one automatically associates her with her husband’s crimes the way they did in the town where she lives. She finds respite and comfort in the fact that her husband’s past did not follow her to this new church. Her son is free to be a young adolescent in the youth group with no one whispering about his family behind his back. She is hopeful this new congregation will also be a safe place for Gary now that he has been released.
Cara serves the church by volunteering on the cleaning crew. She has made one good friend she can confide in. She has years of practice in determining who she can trust with her story while avoiding those she fears will only see her past.
As a Crossroads mentor, Cara opens her heart to her students. She also offers the empathy that comes from direct experience.
“When I write to people, I tell them I was there, and I know how hard it is, and I just want to give them hope that this isn’t the end of their story,” Cara said. “I just try to pour into my students that they are loved and [that] God can work so much good through their problems. It’s the story of my life, and I absolutely love being a mentor. It is such a blessing to give hope to others when they are hurting because I know it is such a hard place.”
Cara said that prison was a transformational experience for Gary. Though their two older children are no longer at home, Gary has become a devoted father to their youngest child. He has finally taken to heart the guidance Cara had been giving him for years.
She asks for prayers as her family faces the issues that come with reunification. Please pray with us that their family may find healing and that she and Gary may honor God as they find ways to serve others.
Cara encourages Crossroads mentors to shower their students with love.
“Mentors are planting seeds,” she said. “We won’t see the fruit, but I know that any kind of correspondence is welcome when you are in prison. To give encouragement and to say that God loves you means so much [to students]. They receive so much judgment, and it is really hard. They need to hear that they were created for a purpose. That purpose is to please God.”