• 25May
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    I was sitting in the visitation room, picking at the broken tabletop as I talked to my son. At that time, we were approaching sixteen years of visiting Jason, both in jail and in multiple prisons. I asked him, “What is the single most important thing—besides Jesus—that helps you keep your sanity in this place?”

    Jason and Carol Kent
    Before he could answer, my finger dislodged a piece of someone’s dried-out, leftover food from the tabletop. “This is so disgusting!” I blurted out, referring to the crud on the table. Then I realized it was even more revolting that I was picking at it with my own fingers!

    I laughed out loud as I realized how it would have bothered me to be assigned a seat at that table in my B.P. (Before Prison) years. Now, A.P., I’m more focused on the person I’m visiting, rather than the furniture or décor in the room.

    To answer my question, Jason said, “Visits are one of the most important things anyone can do for an inmate.” I asked him if he would write out some insights on the importance of visitation so I could share them with you. He mailed me handwritten notes that read:

    Visitation is the only time when a prisoner can count on getting to physically touch (albeit very briefly) those he loves. Our visitors are also our connection to the outside world with its life, freedom, taste of fresh air, and hope. Getting to talk face-to- face, share a meal together, and simply hold hands means more than I can say.

    Prison is a very lonely place and it’s inherently alienating from the life we all previously knew. Any connection through letters, phone calls, and visits shared together is a deep encouragement and reconnects us to those we love. Friends who come remind us that we aren’t forgotten and they’re comforting to the soul.

    People on both sides of the fence desperately need that contact. You realize in here how very important relationships are and how much you miss everyone that you may have previously taken for granted.

    Visits can also be emotionally charged and stressful—but what is the alternative? We can either choose a slow loss of connection and experience broken relationships, or embrace the risk and the opportunity of seeing each other regularly—even with the myriad of restrictions, personal misunderstandings, and hurdles of prison rules.

    I encourage everyone to take a chance and visit those they care about behind prison walls. Letters and phone calls are valuable, but an actual visit in the flesh is truly priceless. It makes us know you care.

    Many people have told me how hard it is to visit their incarcerated loved one. Here’s why I go:

    • God tells us that when we visit someone in prison, it is as if we are visiting Him (see Matthew 25:34–40).
    • Visiting my son gives me a chance to know him more personally. When all we can do is talk, we often discuss important things. We also resolve weightier family issues more easily than in fifteen-minute phone calls with an automatic cutoff.
    • Visitation provides an opportunity for me to meet other prisoners’ family members, both adults and children. Waiting in long lines together gives us a chance to brainstorm about ideas for helping each other and advocating for our inmate loved ones.
    • By caring for my son, I’m able to follow God’s example . . . because He doesn’t< forget us. “See,” He says, “I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

    Visiting my son regularly brings joy, healing, even laughter into a very dark environment. Jason and I find comfort in discussing creative ways to show compassion to inmates and their families, followed by sharing prayer needs and praying out loud for each other. Philippians 2:3 –4 says, “In humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of others.”

    His Words Over You

    “I hear the voices of those in need. Remember those who are in prison as if you were there with them. Overflow more and more with love for each other and keep growing in spiritual knowledge and insight.”

    Based on Psalm 69:33, Hebrews 13:3, and Philippians 1:9

    Question: What hard thing has God asked you to do and how has your obedience brought unexpected joy to your life?

    (Content based on Carol’s newest book, Waiting Together: Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners)

  • 09Apr
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    Ron Emmorey
    Mothers connecting with their children… a silly, unnecessary idea for a program… unless the mother is incarcerated. What is normally natural and comfortable becomes an unfulfilled longing. “Read Me a Story” provides a moment of connection and joy between the incarcerated mom and her children.

    Speak Up for Hope took this program to a central Florida women’s prison on April 1. Because our staff (Carol & Gene Kent, Bonnie & Ron Emmorey, and Kim Mattenly) was pre-approved, our equipment list (video cameras, tripods, lights, computer) was pre-approved, and our goals were pre-approved – and supported, we were quickly brought into the prison visitation area by the chaplain and introduced to the 13 women who had applied to participate.

    We hoped that in our four-hour time block we could produce 13 video messages, up to 15 minutes long, that we would deliver from the mother to her children.

    As Gene set up the photo studio, Carol explained the program. The mothers would talk to their children, remembering a special moment, recognizing special abilities and achievements, apologizing for not being with them now, and thanking the current caregivers. Large cue cards would help them move smoothly from topic to topic.

    Then came the book selection. The mothers were able to choose from about 25 books we brought in, and they enjoyed finding just the right one for their children. We were prepared to coach them with the reading, but to our delight, most of the women were good readers and were excited about this opportunity. All of them wrote a note to their child/children in the front of the book.

    Once the taping started, the mothers needed far less help than we expected, very naturally talking to their children. Some sang a song and some prayed. The whole group, mothers and Speak Up for Hope volunteers, encouraged and supported each other to a success beyond our expectations.

    With help from the entire team of volunteers, the DVDs and books are already on their way to the children. We are rejoicing and looking forward to our next “Read Me a Story” event.

    By Ron Emmorey

  • 21Jul
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    weber_dimkoff_weddingHello Friends! Welcome (or welcome back) to the Speak Up for Hope Blog! Jennie Afman Dimkoff here. I am J.P. Kent’s aunt, and I have the privilege of serving on the board of Speak Up for Hope.
    This past year was a joyful one for our family as we celebrated the wedding of our daughter, Amber Joy, to her long time love, Mark Weber. Mark is a hospital chaplain in San Diego, California, and as he and Amber were planning their very special wedding ceremony, Amber experienced one great sorrow. She knew that JP, her cousin who she had loved like a brother since she was a little girl, would not be able to attend her wedding, because of his incarceration in Florida.

    Amber and JP as children

    Amber and JP as children

    How little did any of us know that Jason Kent’s presence would be felt in a very real and meaningful way at Amber and Mark’s wedding. You see, J.P. may not have been there in person, but he took the time to write a “Blessing” that was so meaningful to Mark and Amber, that they decided to have it incorporated into their wedding ceremony. At the end, the congregation stood, and with close family members gathering around the bride and groom, and “laying their hands upon them” and all others laying a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them, the pastor read these words written by Jason Kent:

    Dear Mark and Amber,

    May your love grow to depths you’ve never known before as your hearts beat together. May you be consumed by spontaneous laughter and smiles as new joys together are discovered. May you never tire of plumbing the reservoir of mystery in each others’ soul and treasuring each new, unique surprise.

    May you strive to magnify the best in one another’s character and to display grace for the abrasive bits. May you look for opportunities to build, create, edify, and to bless each other (especially in front of others) and be known as a team for such good–that an aroma of peace, rest, and hope is always left in your wake. May you tirelessly stay on your quest for Truth, and enrich others as you share such transcendent good and purpose with them.

    May people light up and get warm with expectation of compassion when they see you two coming, and may you leave behind wisdom and healing in the lives you’ve touched.

    May God bless you both with an ever more intimate, transparent, and beautiful relationship with Him and each other as each year goes by. May truth, beauty, and goodness be your companions on each new adventure together.

    I am happy for you and will pray for you regularly.

    Love, J.P.

  • 01Apr
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    Jenn B Adams

    Jenn B Adams

    This year We decided to do something different at our Church’s annual Hope for the Heart Women’s conference. It was suggested by Cassie Fuerst that we incorporate a service project into the event. We did some research into what our speaker, Carol Kent had a service passion for, and soon found the Boxes of Hope ministry. We had around 440 women attend our event, and each woman was encouraged to bring a listed item for the boxes to Hope for the Heart. What a blessing it was!

    hopefortheheart1We received enough items to pack 20 boxes of encouragement to women who have loved ones incarcerated. Two weeks later, we invited women in our church and community to meet together to pack these items. I was honored to be serving with my fellow sisters in Christ as we put the boxes together, each one having it’s own personal touches. As we read over the life stories of the women, we prayed together for each box.

    hopefortheheart2We also wept as our hearts felt their pain. In contrast, we were filled with joy, hoping that as these women received these boxes, it would place hope in their hearts and strengthen them. It was our desire to show these women God’s love…after all, isn’t that what we,as Christians, are called to do? I am convinced that we were created and designed to serve one another. I would encourage anyone who has an opportunity to get involved with Boxes of Hope ministry. What a joy it is to do God’s work!

  • 18Jan
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Ron, Jason, and Gene

    Ron, Jason, and Gene

    Special Notice:

    A position is open in the Gene Kent In Line Waiting Ministry. Gene developed this ministry in response to the needs of people waiting in line for visitation at Hardee Correctional Institution.  While waiting, Gene talks to people, and when needs are revealed, he responds with help.  It may involve helping them understand the clothing rules for visitation, providing oversized t-shirts, or just listening to their frustrations and showing his availability as a friend

    Speak Up for Hope just received a letter from a visitation line friend who knows Gene as “Kent.”  She shared a medical challenge with “Kent” and he was kind and comforting, and then he checked on her in subsequent visits.  She found his support meaningful enough to write about it.

    The open position:  It is for you, where you are, and this ministry has your name on it.  Do what God puts in your heart to serve others.  You will be a blessing, and you will be blessed.

  • 17Dec
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Bonnie Emmorey

    Bonnie Emmorey

    A while back, Jason Kent wrote of how anyone could become a part of Speak Up for Hope by reaching out to the prisons in their own area.  We love it when we see that happen.

    Recently, a widow’s ministry group decided to do that very thing.  They collected items to donate to a visitation center.  They located a nearby State Prison for Women, but discovered that not all prisons were open to having toys & games in their visitation park.  However, something even more amazing happened.  The prison would take the boxes, and allow the women inmates to give the items as Christmas gifts to their own children during the Christmas visitations!

    In an email from this South Carolina group, these words were shared:

    “Because of the inspiration we have gained from your foundation–and from Carol’s testimonies–there will be children whose mothers are in SC State Prison system– getting presents from their mother this Christmas. We thank you for that inspiration and may God bless you in all your work.”

    We at Speak Up for Hope thank all of you – starting with the Widow’s Ministry Group in South Carolina for picking up the Hope banner and passing on the Hope to those in your own area.  Have a very Blessed Christmas!

  • 28Aug
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Jason Kent Featured in New “Grace Place” DVD Series (to order click: http://carolkent.org/cart/)

    Jason Kent

    Jason Kent

    Some of the questions I hear most often are: “Has Jason Kent written a book?”  When is your son going to share his heart in written form? Are there videos where he speaks up about what happened?  How can I learn more about what went on in his mind before he was arrested?

    I am happy to tell you that through his letters, Jason has participated in the writing of every chapter in Between a Rock and a Grace Place.  The publisher sent a production team to Florida to videotape our son behind the razor wire, and cameo appearances from him are featured in each of the six sessions of the small group study.  You will find him honest, transparent, humble, and encouraging.

    Our family is living what some would call a challenging life—but most of us encounter hard places at some point in life—relationship struggles, children born with disabilities, financial crises, or life altering health problems.  But despite our seemingly impossible situations, we can live lives full of grace.

    With hope, joy, and a sense of humor, I’ll help you find God’s “grace places” in the middle of your most difficult moments.

    The series includes these sessions:

    1. Grace in the Hardest of Places—Surprised by Faith

    2. Angels in Disguise—Surprised by Mercy

    3. Longing for a Better Life—Surprised by Contentment

    4. The Secret Power of Gratitude—Surprised by Thanksgiving

    5. Why Do You Weep?—Surprised by Joy

    6. Dwelling in the Grace Place—Surprised by Freedom

    This study will help you decide where you stand when you are caught between a rock and a hard place.  Will you place yourself in a posture of humility and complete dependence on God, or will you just “try harder” and stumble over what could be a transforming encounter with grace?

    If you are looking for an uplifting and encouraging small group study, click here, and you’ll find an opportunity to order the Participant’s Guide and the six-session video-based study for the book, Between a Rock and a Grace Place.

    Question:  What is the most challenging situation you are facing right now?

  • 30Jul
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Photo's to J.P.

    Photo’s to J.P.

    Saturday night…
    Hi J.P. (and Speak Up for Hope Blog Readers,)

    Just now falling asleep, so I thought I’d write.  It’s nearly midnight here in our Gaylord home that we’d like to sell – we haven’t lived here for four years.  It is a unique situation to visit a place with your old furniture and your own pictures on the wall.  Maybe it will sell this year.

    I found some Cheetos from when I was here a few weeks ago.  A great midnight snack except for being soggy stale – but 30 seconds in the microwave and they are better than fresh.  You should try it some time.

    Bonnie & I are spending a few days here because I am redoing the drywall in a kitchen of our rental that had water damage.  Renters just moved out returning to the Upper Peninsula.   I removed the old drywall from two walls, bought new, cut and installed it, taped and mudded the first coat, all in a five-hour period that included dinner.  I once paid a renter for doing the same exact job in 15 hours, and I paid him by the hour.
    Ron Emmorey

    Ron Emmorey

    Tomorrow is Sunday and we will attend our old church for the first time in four years.  We are excited and a little nervous.  When we left to do the house project in Fremont, we thought we would come home each weekend.  That didn’t happen.

    Sunday afternoon…

    It was great fun to see old friends that we hadn’t seen in years.  Surprising how much some people changed, and how little others changed.  I wonder what category I fall into?  I guess I know the answer to that one!  My hair is still getting comments.

    Uncle Ron

    Blog Readers – this is how you could write to your special inmate.  Tell them what you are doing.  If you write to someone regularly, it is almost like a journal.  When you get a letter back, you find what was interesting and you write more of that.    And you find yourself looking forward to the return letters.  Because most inmates never have access to the Internet, email is not available, and the old fashioned letter is a treasure.

    You could do this.  Add some pictures and it’s almost a National Geographic.  Or, start with pictures as a writing guide.  You can make a collage of pictures at Wal-Mart or Walgreens for under 50 each.  It a great way to give that person a “slice of everyday life” on the outside.  Give it a try.  You’ll like it!

    Ron Emmorey (Dedicated to staying connected.)

  • 07Jul
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Jason Kent

    Jason Kent

    Many people ask about being a Speak Up for Hope representative in their area of the country. That is flattering, but it isn’t necessary. You see, we don’t have a special monopoly or license that certifies someone to bless others. We simply do whatever we can do right where we are, and that is exactly what we want to encourage everyone else to do.

    We at Speak Up for Hope are under ten people total, but we are sharing our ideas and encouragement with untold thousands. It’s all of you out there that really do the magic of blessing your own community with your lives. We can share what’s worked for us and offer a model for you to take and in turn tweak for your local needs. You know your people, their hearts and their hurts, and you are placed by God in the best spot to help them.

    So, check us out for ideas and encouragement, and then invent, create, build, and bless others with courageous love and bold abandon. As you grow through the adventures you’ll have, share with us what worked and what didn’t work, and we’ll all grow wiser together.

    God bless you all. Jason Kent

  • 07May
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Paula Afman

    Paula Afman

    Speak Up For Hope receives many letters each month from people dealing with the pain felt when a loved one is imprisoned. Most of the letters are from family or close friends of the inmates and some are from the inmate themselves. They are letters of extreme emotion and heartache. Sometimes, we receive letters from people who are in horrible confinement, imprisoned in a completely different kind of prison.  We respond to all the letters.  Carol Kent’s mother, Pauline Afman, with the help of Carol’s sister, Bonnie Emmorey, pray over and respond to the letters.  It is a vital part of the Speak Up For Hope ministry.  Carol’s sister, Paula Afman stopped at the Post Office to pick up the Speak Up For Hope mail recently on her way back from a visit with her nephew, Jason Kent, at Hardee Correctional Institution.  A letter was waiting in the box and the Speak Up For Hope response letter follows.

    April 5, 2011

    Dear Linda,

    Thank you for your letter and for sharing about the ongoing medical challenges with Anna, and how God has blessed you through A New Kind of Normal.  Prison isn’t always the same for everyone, as there are many kinds of imprisonment.  Sometimes there are bars on the doors and windows and sometimes prison comes in a completely different form.

    I am Carol Kent’s sister, Paula, and in all honesty I am staying with Carol and her husband Gene for awhile, because of God’s grace and their dear hearts.  As you probably know, Carol and Gene travel a lot, so I picked up the mail for them while they have been away for the past several days.  I told her about the still sealed piece of mail from you, and she asked me to read it to her. I did, and I cried all the way through your heart wrenching letter.   Rather than put your letter on the stack of mail to be responded to as time permits, Carol asked if I would respond to you, as she could tell that this letter touched my heart deeply.

    Tony T

    Tony T

    You see, my son and only child, Tony, was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 26.  He was an all A student, in his last year of college, with a double major; and I was a very proud, single mama. However, his seizure disorder came on fast and was so severe that the neurologists could not control the grand mal seizures, not even with 21 pills a day.  The medications dulled his mind so much that he couldn’t continue in school and was forced to withdraw with only four classes left before graduation.  That was a sad day for us.  I couldn’t understand why God would permit what felt like a curse on my precious son, but every time Tony would seize, I would thank God.  Does that sound crazy?  I certainly was not happy that he had another seizure, but I know that God has a purpose for everything, and He is always in control.  I was very grateful for that, because I am powerless without Him.   On September 12, 2009, a year and a half after Tony’s diagnoses, and over 20 hospitalizations, he had a seizure that took his life.

    I too had prayed, screamed, and cried out to the Lord, and often felt like He did not hear me.  I was criticized at times for doting on my adult son, as many epileptics can live quite normal lives and some people just didn’t understand his extreme need.  I threw my arms in the air and begged God to teach me whatever lesson He was trying to teach me/us and give us back our hopes and dreams for Tony’s good health and a successful life.  That was not His plan.

    Tony T

    Tony T

    I have been asked many times if I am mad at God for the anguish of Tony’s disease and for taking my son from me.  It shocked me the first time I was asked, because the thought had never occurred to me.  Mad at God?  How could I be upset with God?  He is the one who gave me the gift of 27 years of my most precious earthly possession.  No, I am grateful to God.  It is because of Him that I will be able to see my Tony again, and when I do, his mind and body will be in perfect condition!

    I often visit my nephew, Jason Kent, at Hardee Correctional Institution, the maximum-security prison where he is currently imprisoned, ministering to inmates and indirectly ministering to the corrections officers and all those who run the prison.  He has helped me to understand how very minuscule this earthly part of our life is, very important as it is our opportunity to do God’s work, but very short.

    I can feel the deep love bond that your whole family has for one another.  I wonder if Anna has been chosen by our Lord to help to draw you all closer to Him.  Just reading your letter has drawn me closer.  Do any of you keep a journal?  It may help, both now and in the future for reflecting.  I would encourage you to express not only your experiences but your emotions, all of them.  I am praying for Anna, her sister Tina, and for you and Ben.  It sounds like you are a God loving, strong family.  I pray for the doctors in Gainesville as they try to diagnose Anna’s condition and for the treatment that they prescribe.  God is almighty and He loves each of us.  It isn’t always easy to understand why we are put through the trials and tribulations that life brings.  Anna’s physical problems are as imprisoning as the cold hard bars that imprison my nephew, possibly even more.  Ask yourself this question. What am I going to do to embrace my situation and shine through the darkness?  I wonder how many people who live in a Godless dark world will see your candle burning and turn to Jesus.

    I have been praying (and crying) all through this letter and I want you to know that I feel a sweet peace for your precious family, the kind that comes from heaven.  I’m excited for what God has in store for Anna and your whole family.  Anna was especially chosen by God to be His very special tool.  That is not a death sentence.  I believe in miracles!!!

    Philippians 4:6-7 (New Living Translation) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

    This is a scripture with which my mother has encouraged many others and me.  I hope it gives your heart and mind the peace that we can only find through our almighty God. Carol sends her love and prayers, too.  Your letter touched her deeply.

    God bless you Linda, and your whole family.

    Paula Afman

    *Names have been changed for privacy.