Al Bonilla, a retired corrections captain, had a simple vision: to give a blank Mother’s Day card to the 11,000 men, women and teenagers in the jails of New York’s Rikers Island.
By doing so, he could reach 11,000 individuals and the 11,000 mothers and families who will ultimately receive the cards, which include Bible verses, a short message for the mother and a prayer for the incarcerated individual. The cards gave him another opportunity as well—the chance to distribute Crossroad Bible Institute enrollment forms.
Bonilla had hoped to do this by the year 2020, but apparently God had other plans, because Bonilla will meet his goal four years ahead of schedule. Already this year he has reached 9,000 people in the Rikers Island jails, with the other 2,000 scheduled for the weeks to come.
Bonilla had previously distributed Mother’s Day and Christmas cards to the women and juveniles at Rikers. When he called the commissioner about his plan to extend the reach of his project, the commissioner assigned a deputy commissioner to call every warden and instruct them to give Bonilla their full support.
After that, it was a matter of recruiting what Bonilla called “a small army of boots on the ground” to help him distribute the cards. “On April 2, we started this tsunami of handing out Mother’s Day cards across the twelve facilities in New York City,” Bonilla said.
Bonilla is currently looking to persuade twelve New York churches to each adopt one of the facilities. He also encourages other churches and prison ministries to replicate his methodology. “Anyone can pick up the mantle and improve on what we have done here in New York City with 11,000 prisoners,” he said.
Bonilla’s work is motivated by his desire to make a difference in the prison system. “This is not the time for separation between ‘church and state.’ We can work together for the common good in a dark place,” Bonilla said.
Bonilla’s vision has blanketed the New York City jails with Christ’s love, and yet his ministry is simple and cost-effective. Of the 9,000 individuals who have already received a card, Bonilla estimates that roughly 1,200 have enrolled in Crossroad’s program.
“We can do a lot with a nickel,” he said, referring to the cost of photocopying the Crossroad enrollment form. “A nickel doesn’t seem like much, but a nickel in God’s hands is an entirely different story.”