Our First Anniverary
On June 5th, we celebrated the first year anniversary of My Father’s House (MFH), a non-profit founded by Jim and Lorenzo, whose mission is to “prepare a place” for men who are on parole and need a place to rediscover their infinite value as persons. The inspiration comes from Scripture “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14:2) They wanted to create a physical representation of the quote. However, as Jim says, “Such a place is not just a physical space, but is also made of relationships. Our life is rebuilt when we experience that Someone is preparing a place for us and that we are free when we are in a place that feels like home.”
Practically, MFH leases rooms in a house where the men are invited to live in community – yet they each have their own room. The house has only four rooms, so only four men live there at a time. Jim feels it is extremely important that the men have a place of their own, their own room as they acclimate back into society. To date, eight men have lived at MFH.
Once a week, some friends in the CL community gather with the parolees to prepare and share a meal. This provides an opportunity to build friendships as the men face the many challenges of rebuilding their lives after an extended period of incarceration. Many in our community have offered their help, either financially or by providing their time for the necessities of the house and of the men who live in it.
Everything began five years ago when some of us met Jim at a correctional facility where he was serving his 32-year sentence. He contacted Traces to request a subscription to the magazine. We not only sent the subscription, but we also decided to visit him in prison on a regular basis. A surprising friendship started, which has since included many more friends in the CL community of Denver. In 2016, Jim was unexpectedly granted parole and he started exploring opportunities to help men in similar situations and, as he likes to put it, “to give what has already been given to me”.
The anniversary celebration was a gratifying event for many of us. It was an opportunity to see what faithfulness to a friendship is able to accomplish. We were struck and grateful for the involvement of so many people who contributed to a beautiful evening. Approximately 60 people attended the celebration which was planned with a moving attention to each single detail by Rita. Katie played the violin, Mike shared an experience tale, Brad who lived at the house until very recently gave a witness, a silent auction was held and we all sang “Amazing Grace” together to close the evening.
We believe that what Mike shared well represents what MFH is for all of us. Here are excerpts of his tale:
“I am a good friend of Jim and have been for several years. While working with Jim and MFH, I have experienced a new kind of change, an authentic, deeper one, this change is the “change of a man’s heart.” The change in heart I have seen at MFH is not a transformation into something new or something improved. This change is that the heart of a man is able to meet and feel (in some cases after many years of not having it) what it is truly meant for – love.
“A place to sleep on a real mattress, a place to cook one’s own meals, a place to feel safe, a place to have friends and family, a place to call home. All of these express a place of love and this place exists at MFH.
“When I first learned of Jim’s and Lorenzo’s ambitions for MFH, I thought it would be impossible to set out to accomplish what he wanted to do. Jim was just entering his own world of parole in which he had limited restrictions on his own life (travel, curfew, safety plans, etc.) – how could he begin to build something greater than himself when he was only just beginning to rebuild his own life back in Denver?
“MFH is not just a place men need as they seek to reenter society, but it also a place that I need and my friends need as well.
“For MFH, I helped prepare the house to welcome its first residents. My friends Lorenzo, Peter, Jim, Robert and I tore up the yard and laid new sod, mowed the lawn and landscaped, moved in furniture for each room. Jim wanted to make sure every room had a bed, night stand, chair, clock, clothes’ hangers and hamper. Jim’s gaze on each room for each man was a reminder that Someone is always thinking of me and has me in mind.
“A few months ago, I shared a dinner with the men and George (just released from prison after 40+ years). We had steaks and shared stories. I remember George having a smile on his face the entire time. I also remember his response to the meal, time together, and people. “This is sweet,” he said. The power of a free, happy man sharing a simple meal together was a reminder for me of how sweet life is (as I often I forget this in the day-to-day).
“MFH is full of these beautiful stories and experiences. I can say that my experience at MFH is a place that has been able to change my heart and I am truly grateful for the men that are there and that I can call my friends.”
After listening to Mike’s witness, Jim interviewed the latest “graduate” of the house – Brad. Brad’s answers included his first days at the house, and how Jim has been a great asset to the men’s journey after being incarcerated. What was especially striking to see was the friendship between Brad and Jim and how Jim’s vision of creating a safe and loving environment had come true to life.
Here are some quotes within the exchange between Jim and Brad:
Jim: Do you remember that first day in which you moved in, do you remember that?
B: I do. Jim came to pick me up from the halfway house. Took me shopping. At Walmart. Which was an experience – WOW!! After doing 14 years in prison, things change so much! Just a simple thing like that – going shopping - going down the candy isle – WOW!!!!
Any way, so part of the application process, was talking on the phone, to Jim, and getting of feel of who I was. It took about three to four weeks. I let him know that I was an older gentleman...I told him about my faith. God’s there for us. No matter what we are going through.
He also explained to me that I would have my own room.”
Jim: And when you first saw the house, what were your first impressions?
Brad: I was blown away. It was a home. Not just a house. It was home. The decorations. The furnishings.
I didn’t have to buy anything. All I had to do was pay rent, when I first moved in. And of course my own food. I mean Jim – to every little detail! The pictures he’s got hanging in the house. He made sure that everything coordinated in the rooms. He had plates, dishes, silverware, pots and pans. Everything we could need except for food. It was amazing! It wasn’t like going into an apartment. It was like going into a home. It felt that way – it felt like a home.
And the most amazing thing – and I tell everybody this – when I first moved in, that first night. Sleeping on a real bed. A brand new bed. That was one thing that Jim did – He bought brand new beds. For all the rooms. Because he knew what it was like to sleep in prison. On a mattress so thin - on steel or concrete bed. And that was just great. I slept like I had never slept before. I mean it was just amazing.
At this moment, we got to hear from Jim. You could tell that Brad’s answer moved both men, and Jim wanted to continue the reason behind the strong feeling of creating a home and having a bed. Here is an excerpt of how Jim continued on:
“It was very important to me to make this a home. There are many places that men can rent when they get out of prison, and it's great that there are folks that are doing that out there; and I applaud all of them. But it was very important to me, to make this a place nice enough that I would live in it myself! I wanted it to be, to have everything that was needed, but would feel welcoming to them. To demonstrate love. The name of it is My Father’s House. And Christ said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” And, that’s what we are doing here. We are preparing a place for these men. Not just the room. Not just the house. But a place that demonstrates that we care. And that they are worth loving. That they have a value. So that is a very important part of my father’s house.”
Jim and Brad exchanged a few more questions and answers in front of the crowd. By this simple witness from one man that has recently moved out of the house; you could feel how MFH has assisted and supported everyone. Brad, earlier in the month of June, was able to find an apartment and all the household items to recreate a home for himself. Brad has been able to reconnect with many members of his family and create stronger relationships with his immediate family members. After the interview, the two men hugged. You could see the love that had grown between them.
The night before the Anniversary, Rita had sent an email out to all of us thanking and confirming the details. Jim response was, “Thanks so much to all of you for your generosity and openness to this! Even though I don't have time to make it to many CL events these days, I still feel a part of you. It means a great deal to me to be a part of a community that cares enough about me and the men to help.”
My Father’s house is still a new ministry that will need more support in order to grow and help more men. Here is the website to get in contact to support and help grow this beautiful program: www.myfathershousedenver.org