• 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
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    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.

  • 24Dec
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    Penny Williams - Speak Up For Hope Counselor

    Penny Williams – Speak Up For Hope Counselor

    Keep it simple. Decide what is important and what isn’t. Leave out the “what isn’t” without inflicting guilt on yourself.

    Don’t isolate yourself. You may not feel like celebrating, but isolating only drives you deeper into depression and sadness. Attend church, family gatherings, work parties, friend connections. You may not feel like it but surely something will give your heart a smile whether it is a child with a gift, a humorous story, or hearing the Christmas story one more time.

    Be kind to yourself. To keep yourself from indulging in problems or concerns, focus on things that give you comfort like a movie, a good book, a hot bath, or a cup of coffee with a friend.

    Try to live outside of yourself. Take a shoebox and shop for a child for Angel Tree. Give a $1.00 to the Salvation Army at the mall. Make cookies for a neighbor. Investing in others helps us to set our worries aside even if for a little while.

    Make an A to Z gratitude list. When we are stressed, hurting, or feeling loss, it is easy to not see what is good in our life. Counting our blessings can help us to feel comfort.

    Limit the time you allow yourself to think about losses and stressors. Take a 15-minute thought and prayer time. Leave it in God’s hands and push yourself to go about your day. You may not completely forget your problems, or be completely removed from the emotion they create, but it will help you to not feel overwhelmed or stuck.

    Change the things you can change. Let go of the things that you can’t.

    Practice smiling even when you don’t feel like it. Smiling triggers “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain and sends signals that make us feel better. Wish others “Merry Christmas”. Their responses will lighten your own load.

  • 03Dec
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    Jason and Gene Kent

    Jason and Gene Kent


    Hi, this is Gene Kent.  I thought I’d tell you what a visit day with Jason is like.  Often Carol and I try to get the last flight home from a speaking engagement on a Saturday night or the earliest one on Sunday morning so we can make it to Hardee Correctional on Sunday to see our son.  Those late Saturday night flights are the killer.  We have usually had a intense time of ministry all day sharing our story and hearing many of theirs.  We throw the unsold books into boxes, toss them in the trunk with our suitcases and race to the airport with a volunteer driver from the event.

    Carol and I love to discuss how the day went on the plane ride back to Tampa and talk about all the individual stories we’ve heard that day.  We often pray together and then fall asleep for what minutes are left in the flight.  I drive the 40 miles from Tampa back to Lakeland and we fall into bed.

    Sunday morning, I groggily get up at 6:30 to gain the earliest possible entry and drive the 40 miles to Hardee.  Standing in line for an hour with others that have become our friends energizes me and prepares me for the next few hours with Jason.  Normally, I’m into the visitation area by 9 or 9:15 and Jason comes in 10 minutes later.  I love to walk around the visiting room and talk with the people waiting for their loved ones:  Holly, who’s waiting for her husband of 4 years, David; Debbie (we have kayaked with her), waiting to see her son; Sarah, for husband Rob; and others.  These people mean so much to Carol and me.  They have become family in a very real way.  We are all sharing an undesired journey, but trying to make the best of our situation.

    I always go over to the game table and get a deck of cards, a pencil, and some writing paper, and then I talk with the guys who are working this area.  With smiles all around, we share the latest inside news and I try to let them know that others on the outside are praying for them.  Christ is at work in so many lives and we have this one-on-one chance of sharing our lives with others who, often, have no one that comes to visit them.  Leon, who runs the canteen where I get coffee and food, let’s me know what Bible verses he’s memorizing and we dream about his future.  God is so mightily at work all around that room.  Even the guards are men and women who need encouragement and, sometimes, give encouragement to us.  I never know what those hours of visitation time will hold for me.  God is at work in my heart too, and I can’t believe this journey that I’m on.

    Carol comes in later, and we are together with Jason until 3 p.m.  I’ll tell you some more in another blog.

    I appreciate and love you all!

    Gene Kent

  • 04Nov
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Bonnie EmmoreyWelcome back to the Speak Up for Hope Blog.  I’m Bonnie Emmorey, one of Carol’s sisters and the director of Speak Up for Hope.

    Many of you have written to our ministry, and one of the common threads through your letters is your surprise at walking the lonely journey with your loved-one through incarceration.  This is not a journey that anyone would choose, or in many cases, even predict.  Yet, something took place that caused your special person to enter prison.  After the shock wears off, you find yourself wondering what to do next.  How can you survive this event with your life still intact and your faith strengthened instead of damaged?

    My answer comes from watching my sister, Carol, and her husband, Gene.  They have been on this road for over ten years, and their experience is worth following.

    Their secret to surviving is serving. It’s surprising, but it works!  When you are helping someone else, you are able to get past your own pain and despair.

    Yesterday, I was sitting with my sister, Paula, in a fast food restaurant at a WalMart.  I looked out at the people passing us, and I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that everyone has a story.  Everyone has an area of pain in his or her life.  Our best way of surviving our own pain is to reach out in kindness to serve someone else.

    When you are visiting your loved-one at prison, look around you at the others in line waiting for their turn to go through security.  Offer a smile and a word of encouragement.  It may be their first visitation, and that can be a very frightening experience.

    If the prison visitation area is lacking in games to play or coloring books and crayons for the visiting children, check with your church about donations that could be made.  Because prisons vary from place to place, the best way to give a donation of this type is to contact the prison chaplain and ask how it should be done.  For best results, the giving should to be done through a church or a charitable organization.

    As you find ways of serving others, I would encourage you to go to our Speak Up for Hope Facebook page, and share what you have done and how it helped you as a result.

    My prayer for each of you is this, “May you be blessed, and may you be a blessing.”

    Bonnie Afman Emmorey

  • 15Oct
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    As an uncle to Jason, I try to do all those things that we would encourage other family members of inmates to do. I visit him as often as possible and I write letters every couple of weeks with pictures, sharing my every day life with him. I send books to him, and read those that he recommends to me, giving us great conversation material. As a result, he has become a close friend.

    Representing Speak Up for Hope, I also serve as a volunteer on the Montcalm County Mental Health Court Team along with friend and volunteer, Pat Wyckoff. Judge Hoort’s special courts (also includes a similar one in Ionia County) are a compassionate attempt to service some extra needy clients of Michigan’s criminal justice system.

    The professionals on our team are caring and competent with specifically defined roles. Volunteers can find their own roles, not having to satisfy specific legal requirements, to meet our client’s needs, moving them toward success in their community.

    Expected concerns for our clientele are transportation, housing, and finding meaningful activity (education, employment, friendships, hobbies, special interests). Pat is leading the effort to create a non-profit organization related to our court that could raise funds or gain grants for special projects to better meet these needs.

    Volunteers are welcomed in existing organizations where you live. You could make a difference.

    Ron Emmorey

  • 16Sep
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Jennie Afman Dimkoff
    Thanks for stopping by the Speak Up for Hope Blog! My name is Jennie Afman Dimkoff, and I have the joy of serving on the board of this great organization that encourages so many people. I also happen to be Carol’s sister, which makes me part of the family.

    As you may imagine, when Carol and Gene Kent travel around the country and have the opportunity to minister and share the story about their son, Jason, it strikes a cord in the hearts of thousands of other people who have had tragedy and heartache in their lives. As a result, mail and e-mail pours in, and each is read and prayed over by loving family members of the Kents. (Pauline Afman, our eighty seven year old mom, who is a prayer warrior, prays over every letter, but you will hear more about her and our sister, Bonnie in another blog!) Every correspondence is responded to, but some of the situations we read about are so dire, that it is determined that something more should be done for the individual or family to encourage them. And so, the idea of the “Hope Box” came to be.

    Each box is lovingly and beautifully packed and includes one or more of the following items: stationery, a CD, a great book, a coffee mug with flavored coffees or tea, bath or toiletry products, a lovely journal, a candle, a Bible, and many other comfort items. Plus, the whimsical face of a small Beanie Baby or another small stuffed animal like a lamb with a note card that says “God knows your name” or a lion that says, “Be strong and courageous” peeks out of the crinkle cut packaging. Every hope box also includes a personal letter of encouragement from a member of the Hope Staff, letting them know that they have been prayed for personally.

    When people ask me, “How can I encourage Carol and Gene or help Speak Up for Hope?” I happily tell them, “Contribute to the Hope Box ministry. It costs about $30.00 to fill and send one box of encouragement to someone who really needs it. We’ll do the work of packaging and sending it out. You can send your donation to: Speak Up for Hope, PO Box 6262, Lakeland, Florida, 33803, or donate online on this website.

    Stop by our blog again, and please pray for this ministry. We appreciate you so much!

    The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

  • 01Sep
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Paula Afman

    Paula Afman

    It has been my privilege to visit my nephew, Jason Kent on many occasions.  I am Paula Afman, one of Carol’s sisters and one of Jason’s aunts.  I have often been amazed at how few visitors come to see the inmates.  I was told by one of the correction officers at the prison where he is presently confined, that out of approximately 1,500 inmates, only about 150 ever get a visitor.  A few years ago Speak Up For Hope was able to arrange to have Greeting Cards and postage provided so that the inmates could send out up to six cards to friends and loved ones during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.  Each year since, I noticed that the amount of visitors that come to see the inmates over the holidays has increased tremendously.  It makes my heart sing to think that God has used Speak Up For Hope to make such a visible impact.

    As I was standing in a very long line waiting for my turn to enter the cage-like room where I would punch my identification number into a machine and a special camera would scan my hand in order for me to leave the visitation area after spending my cherished six hours with Jason, I spoke to the guard at the “cage entrance” as I would be in the next group of five to enter the “cage”.  I told him that I appreciated the way the prison staff handled the increased flow of visitors.  Then the guard told me that one of the inmates that had been there for 19 years, since he was a very young man, was expecting to have his very first visitor the next day.  Yes, I was touched but that was just the beginning.

    When I went back to see Jason the next day, the six hours flew by as per usual, and once again, I found myself standing close to the end of a very long line waiting to exit, when I noticed an African American woman standing a little behind me crying very hard.  I took a few steps back to where she was standing and told her that she looked like she could use a hug.  She laid her weeping face on my shoulder and with our arms around each other I started to pray for her and her… she filled in, “brother”.  After praying, she explained how she had been separated from, but looking for her brother for many years, and that they were finally reunited that day at Hardee Correctional Institution because of a card she had received from him.  She didn’t explain how he had found her, but she went on to say that he hadn’t had another visitor in 19 years.  I interrupted and said out loud, “You’re the one”.  She looked at me with bewilderment; so I explained that a guard had mentioned a little bit about their story the day before.   As we walked out to the parking lot together, she shared with me that she and her three daughters had been homeless and living in a shelter, but that within the past year, God saw fit to provide her with a job, a home, and a car. She cried as she said, “And now He has helped me reunite with my brother”.

    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27 NIV

  • 08Aug
    Categories: Hope Blog Comments: 0

    Carol and Jason Kent
    Welcome to the Speak Up for Hope blog! Thank you for your interest in our organization. This blog will be updated weekly and we hope you will check back often for news of what is happening as we reach out to help meet the needs of inmates and their families.

    Many of you have asked for an update on our son. On October 25, 2010, Jason will mark his 11th year of incarceration. We have exhausted all of our appeals at both the state and federal levels. Last summer Jason’s paperwork requesting a clemency hearing made it to the top of the pile (a three year process). After reviewing the case, the Florida Parole Commission recommended that Jason’s case receive a waiver hearing before the clemency aides. A waiver is needed before a case can be heard before the governor and his cabinet at a clemency hearing. Clemency does not usually mean that an inmate will immediately walk in freedom. In our case, we were asking for a review of the case, with the hope that Jason would be given an eventual end-of-sentence date, instead of life without the possibility of parole. In the State of Florida, a life sentence means the rest of your natural life will be spent in prison. Our son did a terrible thing, believing he was protecting his two stepdaughters from the potential of abuse, and we know there must be a punishment.

    Gene and I were given an hour to present Jason’s case in front of the clemency aides. They asked lots of questions and requested that we gather letters from inmates who had been positively impacted by Jason’s teaching, mentorship, and encouragement, along with letters from the parents and spouses of inmates who observed his influence on the lives of their incarcerated loved ones. It took us two months to gather the materials and letters that were requested and we compiled them into eight two-inch thick notebooks and sent them to Tallahassee for distribution. Three days after they arrived we received word that the attorney to the governor of the state had denied a clemency hearing for Jason. It will be five years before J.P. is allowed to file clemency paperwork again.

    It was discouraging, to say the least, and I wish I could tell you we immediately thanked God for what he was teaching us through this exhausting, expensive, and discouraging process. I sobbed and Gene comforted me through his own tears. The next day was a visitation day and Gene gave Jason the news. When I arrived at the prison a couple of hours later, I wept as I greeted my son.

    J.P. was totally at peace as he said, “Mom and Dad, if God chooses to allow me to walk in freedom in this lifetime, it won’t be because I received the favor of well-connected politicians and attorneys. It will be because God moved in the hearts of decision makers in a miraculous way. I am content with that. My heart hurts for the family of the deceased and I hope that someday in the future they will be able to forgive me.”

    Jason is currently taking his 8th group of inmates through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. He is in the Gavel Club, which is a group of inmates who are working on their public speaking skills. He has reached the 4th level of the Evangelism Explosion program, and he has a group of mighty prayer warriors who fast and pray on behalf of the needs of each other and their families.

    Some of you have asked what you can do to help. The workbooks needed for the Financial Peace class are $17 each, so if you are able to donate on our website, that amount will cover one inmate’s course material. Additional gifts help us to provide DVD curriculum for chapel programs, inexpensive greeting cards for inmates to send to their families, and Boxes of Hope that are sent to wives and moms of inmates.

    Most of all, we are grateful for your prayers—for us and for Jason and for inmates all over the country who are trying to be ambassadors for Christ in a dark place. Thank you for caring. For regular updates on the ministry Gene and I are involved in, please become a friend on Facebook at: Carol Kent, or follow us at www.Twitter.com/carolkentspeaks.

    Be encouraged with these words: “Friends when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 (MSG)