One day I noticed a small newspaper ad about a fundraiser for a local nonprofit I was unfamiliar with. I went to my computer to find out more about the organization.
Set Free After-Care Ministries is a prison ministry of sorts. It helps released prisoners re-enter society by working with them to find jobs, a place to live, etc.
I had to know more, so I called founder and executive director Tom Allanson. We agreed to meet for coffee.
From the moment Tom began telling me his story, I was riveted. At one point, I stopped taking notes and just listened.
Tom came from a strict family and attended Georgia Military Academy (which today is Woodward Academy) in College Park. After playing football for and graduating from the University of Georgia, Tom became a professional cowboy. He told me about his exciting life as a cattle ranch manager, horse trainer and rodeo rider.
A driven person, Tom is a self-described workaholic. From any outside view, Tom’s life seemed pretty normal.
Due to some horrible events in the late 1970s, Tom found himself in prison with two life convictions. For someone who had never been in trouble with the law before, you can imagine he was more than lost in the midst of a sea of other inmates.
It was at this darkest hour of his life that Tom gave his life to Jesus Christ and became a Christian.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Tom confronted his new faith with the same gusto and determination he approaches everything else.
Tom said his entire life changed and he eagerly attended church meetings in prison. “I began sharing my faith with others — ministering to the other men who were serving with me.”
The organization handling the prison ministry with Tom was Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International.
Tom’s eagerness and ability to minister to others did not go unnoticed. He went on to become chapter president of the FGBMFI.
“They taught me how to pray and to turn it all over to God,” Tom explained. “I found I was more concerned about others than I was about myself.”
While in prison, a businessman from the “outside” began mentoring Tom and promised him a job upon release.
After 16 years, Tom was released from prison and began the process of re-entering society. It was then that God spoke directly to him.
“I got out of prison and then God called me right back in,” Tom said.
He added that he knew his calling was to embrace these men he could so identify with.
“They have been locked up for years and have been told what to do every single day, year after year. They need help re-entering society if they are going to be a productive member of society.”
Tom began his after-care ministry in order to ensure that these men would have a job and a place to live, the two things needed to deter someone from ending up back in prison.
Tom said 350 inmates are released in Georgia each week with nothing more than a $25 debit card. Nearly all of these men have no financial support, food or clothing.
Add to that bleak description a lack of family and friends, little job training and education and the end result does not look promising.
At this point in our meeting, Tom grew really emotional.
“Re-entry is going to happen in your neighborhood — they can either be robbing your house, or going to your church — which would you rather have?”
Tom’s church, Freedom Tabernacle, supports his ministry, and Tom is always open to support from other local residents and churches.
I was moved by Tom’s message. As a society, we all need to pray for the success of his ministry and others like it.
Please spread the word about this organization and consider making a donation. You can find out more online at www.setfreeafter-care.org.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at email@example.com.