Student Spotlight: A letter from Paul and Letters to Inmates By: Emily Williamson
In the book of Romans, Paul wrote a letter that included these words: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
Most agree that sharing the Gospel is an important task, one we are all called to do in some capacity. For Ally Arnold, a doctoral student in Hardin-Simmons University’s physical therapy program, responding to this call has looked different from traditional evangelism. Though she lives in Abilene now and calls San Angelo home, her mission field is prisoners living on death row in Huntsville’s Allan B. Polunsky Unit.
Arnold writes letters to death row inmates. For her, this specific field has been interesting since her friend’s dad went to prison and told stories of his experiences. This caused her to want to pour into those people and share with them the good news of Jesus.
After a few online searches and setting up a local post office box to remain somewhat anonymous, Arnold found inmate ID numbers and started writing, hoping that some of them would respond to her letters.
“I started writing letters to change inmates’ lives, but more than anything it just changed my life because they opened my eyes to a truly condemned population, people that the world says are worthy of nothing, not even life,” Arnold said. “But they are just as worthy of God’s love as I am… through that I think God has shown me grace.”
Since she began writing letters in December 2020, Arnold has written about 150 letters and received approximately 40 to 50 responses. Turns out, Arnold is not the only light that these prisoners are seeing. Warden Daniel Dickerson began working the Polunsky Unit in August 2020. His heart for the Lord has led him to go beyond the scope of his job description to provide inmates with opportunities to encounter the Lord and grow in faith.
From worship services to Bible studies to group discussions, many have started to claim that death row is beginning to seem more like life row.
Arnold has learned a lot through this process about faith, grace and the criminal justice system. The faith that many of these inmates have has inspired her and made her realize how often we get distracted by things of this world.
“So many [inmates] have found God on death row because they did not have drugs or alcohol or sex to turn to anymore, so when they get to their cell with a metal platform bed and a blanket and a Bible and begin reading out of boredom, they find Jesus. Waiting for their turn to die, [the inmates] found God,” Arnold said. “We get distracted by the things of the world but now that these people have nothing, they’re gaining everything.”
Arnold believes that each person has a mission field and a responsibility to share the love of Christ with those around them. Many times, this means getting out of your comfort zone, but it does not always have to mean traveling across the world. Sometimes all it takes is a pen, some paper and a stamp.
“Wherever your feet are, that’s where your ministry field is,” Arnold said. “Wherever you are, just pour wholeheartedly into that and prepare yourself knowing that failure will come… but don’t let that knock you down. Even just one person turning to God makes it all worth while.”