patsnjer 2It was a quiet Sunday morning when Patty finally confessed to her husband her terrible secret.

Panicked and full of shame, Patty had spent the weekend seeking some kind of comfort. She kept returning to a small note scrawled on the inside cover of an old Bible:

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. And then you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
John 8:31–32

The Bible was a decade-old present from a friend who had inscribed Jesus’ well-known words, along with a note: “I believe God gave me a Scripture for you that I feel will be significant in your life somewhere down the road.”

At the time, Patty had had no idea that somewhere would be the day she told Gerry, her husband of only eleven months, that she had been fired from the nonprofit she ran for embezzling over $100,000.

Patty’s crime sent shockwaves through her Minnesotan community. From all outside appearances, Patty led a charmed life. She was a devoted newlywed, a successful leader and an active church member.

Yet, beneath this facade, Patty says she was living in a prison of her own making—the prison of other people’s approval. She believed the lie that her worth was tied to possessions and allowed greed and darkness to grow in her heart.

In desperate attempts to maintain her image of “success,” Patty had charged personal expenses—lattes, lunches, gifts for friends—to the company credit card for over eight years.

So when Patty finally confessed her secret sin to Gerry, she expected him to reach for the divorce papers—after all, who could love someone who had stolen money from a program to help victims of child abuse?

But even when Patty was eventually sentenced to prison, Gerry vowed to stand by her side. His Christ-like grace was utterly disarming, and Patty felt, as if for the first time in her life, like those words scrawled in the front of her Bible had leapt to life.

By the time she was handcuffed and led to prison, Patty had already asked for forgiveness and recommitted her life to the Lord. She says she entered her cell as a “free woman.”

However, although she felt spiritually emancipated, prison life was difficult, especially when Patty was mistakenly sent to the Special Housing Unit (SHU)—the section reserved for violent, disruptive offenders. In the midst of the darkness and cold, the strip searches and shackles, Patty met a woman named Sasha, and in the weeks that followed, the two women shared many meaningful conversations.

“I was able to witness to Sasha several times, and God used her to reveal the struggling heart of the female prisoner to me,” Patty reflects. When Patty returned to general population, she had a new mission: to share her story with others who, like Sasha, needed to be spiritually set free.

It was then that Patty enrolled in CBI. Soon, Patty was gathering with the other women to do Bible studies and discuss all they were learning through CBI’s lessons. Patty loved her lessons, and the encouragement she received from her Instructors inspired her to continue faithfully on her journey.

Patty’s compassionate heart and leadership skills earned her a reputation as the “cellblock counselor.” Even the corrections officers would call Patty to intervene when someone had an emotional breakdown.

Amid the chaos of prison, Patty could clearly see that God was opening up doors for her to share her message, and Patty promised herself that when she was released she would continue to speak the truth as long as those doors continued to open.

Three years after being released, God is still opening those doors as Patty, the “cellblock counselor,” is now making counseling her vocation. She has received her master’s degree in counseling with full licensure and has started a grief recovery program and women’s Bible study at her county jail. She also has a growing speaking ministry, using her prison experience to encourage women from all walks of life to break through their own chains.

Patty has also continued her CBI studies. “I believe the seeds you have sown in my life are being passed on to others who are incarcerated to provide for them the hope and joy that can only come from our Lord and Savior,” Patty writes.

And the more Patty opens up about her story—through her blog, at conferences, in churches—the more people open up to her about their own spiritual shackles. Hearing their stories is a humbling experience for Patty, who says, “Whomever God sends to me, it’s an honor to help them in their quest for freedom.”

Coming from Patty, the woman who once hid secret sins behind a mask of material success, such a declaration is a radiant testimony to the power found in those words of Jesus scrawled in the front of her old Bible: then you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

Patty and Gerry are currently writing an inspirational book about how their marriage survived Patty’s incarceration. You can follow them on their blog at www.marriagebehindbars.com.