More Journeys to Healing

It has allowed me to resolve issues that started as a young teen that I didn’t know I still had in me and given me tools to use to help myself and others around me through living for God and how he wants me to be.

Joseph Tucker, 573451

Graduates of the Theotherapy correspondence course version of A Journey to Emotional Healing, facilitated by God’s Love First, share how the program changed their lives:

“It’s given me a good place to reflect, think and to start to change some of my ideas that were flawed and causing me issues in my life.” —Dale Draves

“It has helped me to see that it’s not about me and the way I see things, it’s the way my God wants me to live and to seek his will and not the will of my own or the world. It has also shown me that instead of holding on to my past failures and sins, I can turn them over to the Lord and seek his forgiveness and move on to live a better life, by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me.” —James Pinchon, Jr., 387463

“It has healed my heart from pain and brought me closer to God. A also learned more about myself.” —Antione Batey, 272288

“It has opened me up to think better and look at the world a different say. It made me want to learn more about everything I need to learn.” —Nevin Merkerson, 370161

“It has made me a better person, more understanding, allowed me to accept my faults as my own and has shown me the true meaning of love and forgiveness, which was intended to be instilled in me by my Creator.” —Quamine Jones, 422514

“It keeps me focused and positive and look at life differently.” —LaDarious Maxwell, 500707

“It has put into words what some of my issues are and helped me identify the areas I need to work on.” —Thanath Sayadet, 241869

“Theotherapy helped me understand the meaning of forgiving people for things that happened in the past. It also helped me understand that most of my problems were caused by me and not other people.” —Autravious Thomas, 533430

“It has opened a door to a better understanding of not only myself, but Christ and the reason I need Him to be saved.” —Thomas Collins, 544412

A House Divided Cannot Stand

By J.B. Chambliss

When I read the account of Jesus’ interaction as a guest in the house of a Pharisee named Simon, recorded in the book of Luke 7:36-50, I personally identify with Simon in his experience. I have been “forgiven…much.” I know there is nothing I can do to repay the Lord for the abundant, long-suffering love he has manifested towards me, first through his mercy and forgiveness for my past sins and for his power in my life that redeems my present course and future choices (Philippians 4:13). However, this is only possible as I daily chose to seek him with my whole heart and strive to put those I love first in my life by putting him first in all things.

There is no testimony like a life transformed by God’s grace. I know the one who knows me the best also loves me the most. This is my testimony, a witness of God’s faithfulness as it has been demonstrated in my life. The following synopsis is intended to give some context and perspective regarding events preceding my second arrest in Nashville, which resulted in my first time being incarcerated and the true freedom I have found in Christ as my personal savior.

On Mar. 21, 2014, I turned myself into the Nashville Metro County Police Department for what ended up being two counts of aggravated assault on my father. This was my first arrest, and where I would like to begin my story. For these charges, I spent almost a month in jail waiting to go to court, and then I was released on one-year probation that November. It was during this time, after my release, and while still on probation, that I caught new charges that would eventually lead to my second arrest in Nashville, and later my conviction on one count of aggravated sexual assault.

On Oct. 22, 2014, I was picked up by Rutherford County Police and taken to the Murfreesboro county jail, better known as “940,” where I spent the next 10 months before being classified and transferred to prison. This was my second arrest. About one month later I was given a night vision by God that would transform the entire course of my life from that point forward. Over the remaining nine months spent in the county jail, I studied God’s word intensely, and through the biblical symbols employed in the vision, God revealed the dream’s meaning, which is what led me to the writings of a woman named E.G. White, co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and convicted me of the call I believe God placed on my life. Next, in the early morning hours of July 3, 2015, not long after I accepted the DA’s offer and received my sentence of nine years at 100 percent, I was visited by an angelic being while alone in my jail cell. Finally, about two months after that, I was transferred to classification, where the state decides the “time building facility” where offenders are placed.

From Murfreesboro I was transferred to Bledsoe Correctional Complex (BCCX) in Pikeville, also known as classification, because, in addition to being a prison starting in 2013, BCCX is where all incoming Tennessee Department of Corrections inmates were sent before being dispatched throughout the prison system. After five weeks in classification at BCCX I was sent to Deberry Special Needs Facility in Nashville as a staff worker, which is the only prison-hospital in Tennessee, and where I was assigned to serve out the remainder of my sentence.

While I could try to blame others for the downward spiral that took place in my life following the events of my first arrest, that’s not my story. No matter what happens, or the reasons behind the choices we make, they are still our choices to make. In the end, we must all bear the eternal penalty for our own sins, or accept the righteousness of Christ in our place and God’s free gift of salvation.

Truly Changed

By Michael Coatney

When I got locked up in May of 2000, at Knox County Jail in Knoxville, I was scared at first. I had never been locked up before. Plus, I had a good family life, true Christ-like parents and older brother and older sister. We didn’t have much money, but we had love. Plus, we didn’t go hungry. Our mom was a licensed wedding seamstress, and she could make and sew anything. She did this for a living in our house. So I had a lot of hand-me-downs from my brother. When I was in second grade, my Pap quit his $10 an hour job. God had called him to go to college, where he got his B.S. degree in teaching. He had to learn how to play one musical instrument. He chose the autoharp, and taught me how to play a song. These days, I play the guitar and sing about our Lord Jesus.

My mom started making a lot of wedding and bride’s maid dresses, while Pap was in school. Meantime, he worked part-time at his old job in the summer, and in the winter worked in his dad’s leather shop to earn money to help mom take care of us kids. After he graduated, he and mom started Yoke Ministries in 1977 for middle school kids. They retired about two years ago and someone else took over.

As for me, after I graduated high school eight years later I got married, and a year later our son Tyler was born (he is now 29). We went to church, but we did not have that one-on-one personal relationship with Jesus. When Tyler was eight, I got into trouble, and got locked up. We had preachers come on Thursday nights and tell us what Jesus had done for them—and what he did for us. I had a real hard time forgiving myself. One Thursday night Preacher Jim was running late coming to our cell block. I told him my situation while he was leaving. He told me to read 1 John 1-9: “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Man… that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Then, later around 2 a.m., I heard a still small voice say, “If I can forgive you, don’t you think you can forgive yourself?” And he said, “Are you trying to be me?” At that moment I hit my knees on that cold concrete and asked Jesus to forgive me of all my sins, and made him Lord and Savior of my life. I’m truly born again. I have that personal relationship with him, and will never be the same.

I was sentenced to prison about two years later. I went to South Central Prison, and that’s where I met my brother Roger T. Johnson. He was of the world, but when Jesus got hold of him, he was completely changed. Just last year my old celly told me of Roger and Theotherapy. I wrote to Roger, completed that course and the facilitator course. I now serve as the public relations director as we wait for the detox program to start. We welcome your prayers for these efforts!

More Than a Phrase

By Jimmy Morales

There are times in our lives when we all need someone to just listen and hear about the situations in our lives that have had a huge impact on our ways of dealing with our emotions, and the hang-ups that have kept us standing still in all our shame, anger, guilt and pain of the past.

As a member of God’s love First, I have been blessed to experience many changes in my life, and others as well, because God has intervened. As we yielded, he took control of every situation and issue that me and many others could not handle for ourselves. We might struggle at times, but God accepts us just how we are, and all we have to do is believe and accept Him.

Only until we have effectively dealt with the issues of our past, can we successfully live in the present. Our theotherapy class, A Journey to Emotional Freedom, has provided me and many other men a safe place to be able to let go of the many different traumas we have experienced in our lives. In God’s Love First, we want to lead men to the only One who can fix all their problems because no one else is capable of doing it for them.

Our programs have given us the ability to forgive and build trust towards others. We can’t always guarantee that man will love us, but we can guarantee that God’s love is unconditional and never fades away. God’s love truly is first. 

We need to be willing to let go and let God begin the healing we have so longed for, so the broken damage to our hears is healed, and we are no longer living by our own will. The Lord is good and his love endures forever.

Jimmy Morales serves on the God’s Love First board as secretary. He was released from Riverbend in June 2020.

Join the Winning Way

By Alice Newton, Take One Mentoring volunteer

Our Take One Mentoring program was implemented at Riverbend Maximum Security in February of 2018 to bring an academic re-entry focus through powerful biblical teaching that guides the Christian faith.  

 The academic re-entry focus leads us to discuss with the men the essentials of success for re-entry into society and their communities. Our goal is to prepare and equip them with the tools, relevant information, and helpful insights they need to accomplish their goal: to successfully return to their loved ones and their communities as productive, responsible, and effective citizens.  

 We consider it a tremendous and heartfelt blessing in our lives to have the privilege of walking with these special men as God brings healing revelation, hope and conviction into their lives.  

—Alice Newton

As volunteers, we continue to stay in touch with inmates upon release, serving as mentor and friend to be that contact person in times of need. We help keep them focused on their goals and give them assurance, encouragement, and wise, godly words.  Our intent and focus is to help them to continue to go forward so they do not return to a prison facility.  

The topics we discuss are all critical in reestablishing their life outside: family relationships, housing, transportation, job skills, job pursuits, church home. We attempt to foster an attitude of accountability, humbleness, and gratitude, as we discuss possible scenarios that might come their way. Then we suggest positive ways to utilize “the helpful” and boldly overcome “the harmful.”

The second element of the Take One Program is the Christian perspective.  We are built on the truth of God’s word.  We stand upon the word of God to assist, come alongside, and offer God’s love to all the men participating. Our goal is to expose these men to the truths and promises of God and assist them in building a strong and growing faith. We discuss all aspects of our own walk of faith and God’s place of priority in our lives.  As these men come to know God and who He is in their lives, they begin to have hope as they recognize the power within them to overcome all obstacles in the strength of the word.

 We consider it a tremendous and heartfelt blessing in our lives to have the privilege of walking with these special men as God brings healing revelation, hope and conviction into their lives.  

To become a member of our Take One group, please contact Riverbend’s Re-Entry Specialist, Ms. Jody Kahn and ask for a Take One application or visit the website.  

When you get to the question on the application that says, “What group do you feel most comfortable with?” make sure you write God’s Love First in the blank.  After completing the application, turn it back in to Ms. Kahn.  It may take up to 3-weeks to begin, that is provided you meet the Take One criteria, so please be patient. We look forward to being with you soon!

Beating the Statistical Trend

By Roger Johnson, Executive Director

God’s Love First recidivism report covers a span of time that begins on August 22, 2013, and runs to April 30, 2019. Our statistical data is collected and maintained by me, then verified by institutional staff.  

One of God’s Love First’s primary goals is to totally eradicate recidivism in Tennessee.  We are making great progress toward that goal through the striking success of our programs. I am happy to report that over the past six years our program recidivism rate is 0.45 percent. This is by far the best result I have ever heard of in my entire life, even with my 26-years of incarceration experience.  

Over the past six years we have conducted 16 classes: eight Theotherapy Basic classes, four Personal Growth and Ministry Training Classes, two Financial Stability Classes, and two Parole & Transition Classes. Of those classes we have graduated 342 men (283 through our classes at Riverbend and 59 by correspondence course).  In the past six years, we’ve had 46 men released to parole, and of those 46, only one returned to prison, and it due to was parole violation and not committing a new crime.

If our program produced the same result as the prison system at large in Tennessee, 157 individuals would have committed a crime and been sent back to prison.

In the past six years, we’ve had 46 men released to parole, and of those, only one returned to prison.

—Roger Johnson

Our amazing accomplishments are being achieved by rehabilitated inmates with a God given desire to receive and help facilitate God’s Healing for a much better Tennessee. You see, we too hope that our communities are able to flourish in safe, crime free environments where our children can have a real chance at a life more abundant.  Last but not least, strictly for the record, God’s Love First has 19-members.  Of our 19-members 6 has been released, none has returned to prison.  Therefore, among our members we have achieved a 0% recidivism rate!

Help us expand the success of this proven model.

Why God’s Love First Exists

By Roger Johnson, Executive Director

For many years now there has been much discussion about prison reform and the appropriate action to take concerning the matter. In an effort to respect all (the victim and their families, the convicted and their families, as well as the communities we serve), we realize there are no easy answers.

However, I believe we can all agree that something must be done in light of the failure of mass incarceration, truth in sentencing, and tough on crime laws. In spite of these laws being passed, our violent crime rate is still high. Our recidivism rate is still high. People are not any more protected than they were before. But the social and financial costs of these measures have been staggering. This continues year after year after year.

If we want to effect real change within the criminal justice system, then the rehabilitated incarcerated men and women must have a role in the process. Therefore, I am happy and excited to introduce you to a new movement in prisons across Tennessee, called God’s Love First. We are a growing group of changed men and women committed to helping Tennessee build safer communities, by reducing recidivism and crime.

Please work with us!