Behind bars, not beyond hope.

Did you ever meet a person who was so on fire about a cause, you feel like you’ve spent your life looking at your own navel? Andrea Shelton is that person – a total spitfire who’s so cute and snappy, you just know she was voted Most Popular, and Homecoming Queen, and was the one cheerleader you actually liked. So how unexpected is it that her passionate cause is the treatment of inmates in prison … and she is most comfortable walking down the hallways of jails in Georgia and Louisiana, engaging prisoners with her laugh, her ferocious Christian faith, and her thick-as-honey southern charm?

Joe and Andrea Shelton, the definition of good people.

Andrea started HeartBound Ministries after her brother went to jail and she realized how isolated, abandoned and utterly neglected the inmates in prison are. In response, Andrea vowed to be a voice for the invisible; she felt called to bring God’s redemptive love to those behind bars, remembering “And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them unless someone sends them?” (Romans 10:14)

HeartBound Ministries works to provide counseling to prisoners who come out of prison and need help finding housing and jobs. Andrea’s biggest focus is to keep prison chaplains in the jails because they are a true lifeline for the incarcerated and arguably one of the key pathways for rehabilitation (remember that concept??) She is relentless about   encouraging, lobbying, nagging and embarrassing (if necessary) lawmakers into funding the chaplains, improving conditions and ensuring humane treatment of inmates. And she also makes sure (by corralling every person she knows to participate… and who can resist Andrea?!) that every Georgia inmate gets a Christmas present and a word of remembrance during the holidays.

Andrea's captive audience of friends, making holiday baskets in the prison

HeartBound Ministries has done all this and more, including reinstating six of sixteen dismissed chaplains in 2009 alone. In case you don’t think there’s a need, consider these statistics: one in every 100 adults are behind bars in America, including 1 in every 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 15 black men. America imprisons more than people than any other nation in the world — and an average of 7% (or $44 billion) in state budgets go for corrections. Shouldn’t some of that go to help prisoners redeem themselves and build a life on the outside?

If you ever want to experience pure amazing grace, just go with Andrea on one of her prison visits. Lulu, Larry & I traveled 10 hours on a bus with Andrea, Joe and some other prison officials to visit Angola Prison in Louisiana and it was one of the most memorable trips of my life. No matter how you feel about people in prison, I guarantee you, when you watch Andrea at work and see her dispensing love, kindness and compassion to the toughest of inmates, you’re watching love in action.

To join me in donating to this really worthy cause, click here