Boys Behind Bars, ‘Josh’, by Ed Spencer

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Many people who have not experienced “behind-the-bars” prison ministry have a TV-produced impression of prison… a violent place, where people who have no value or importance in life are stored away.  We see television images where they beat on each other and even kill each other. If you look for that, yes, you can find some of that; some inmates unfortunately, make hate and revenge their lifelong goal.

There are also those who, through teenage stress, anger, and misguidance are incarcerated for making only one huge mistake in life… resulting in spending much of or all of their life paying the consequences of that mistake. Also you will also find those who were simply born into a life of abuse without proper help and guidance.  Often, that leads these young men to the boiling point of violence, and they are now paying the consequences.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with Josh. I have known Josh for 8 or 9 years. Josh is a young man who went to prison at age 13 after a life of abuse and neglect. Josh has been behind bars for 15 years. These days, Josh has a great attitude and positive outlook on life. He is looking to be released within the next decade and he has a release plan with the help of friends and relatives. When Josh first found himself behind bars in a Pennsylvania facility for violent juveniles, he was unruly, in constant fights, and the RHU was a familiar place for him. (RHU  stands for ‘restricted housing unit’ or solitary confinement–“The Hole”). Along the way he was given a cell mate slightly older than him with much in common. The two boys shared an interest in sports; playing alongside of each other on prison hockey and volleyball teams. These guys were cell mates and best friends for several years. David, Josh’s cell mate, has an incredible attitude despite his life without parole sentence. David is a strong believer in Christ, and was heavily involved in Chapel and in helping others. David had an incredibly positive influence on Josh.

Eventually when both boys entered their early 20’s, they were split up and transferred to separate adult facilities. David, in addition to praying for his friend Josh, also asked mentors to follow up on Josh with encouraging communication and prayer. David would often ask us about his friend Josh. About 2 years ago, Josh applied to participate in the K-9 program, where he would be able to train a puppy for a service dog. We engaged in prayer for Josh. Josh was extremely excited when he was accepted into the program. It was difficult for Josh to give up his puppy after the prescribed one year of training, but he knew his investment in that puppy was going to go to someone in need. Josh told me that it was the first time he cried in prison.

During my recent visit with Josh, I had the opportunity to spend several hours with him and his second puppy, a black lab. (note: The above photo is an approved file photo for the K9 program and is not actually a photo of Josh although the black lab looks like his) Josh told me that through his relationship with these puppies, he learned responsibility, empathy, and Love. I found Josh to have an awesome attitude and a positive outlook. Josh takes complete and full responsibility for his actions as a young teen. He doesn’t push the blame on others or circumstances. Although he admits his abuse had much to do with leading him to this end, he knows his future lies in taking responsibility and continuing with a positive attitude and outlook.

Josh gives credit for his changed attitude and his positive outlook on life to the influence of his old cell mate David, the mentors that continued to write to him and believe in him, his puppies and the K9 program, and the few family members that remained loyal to him.

This story is not only about Josh, but the “difference-makers” in his life as well. These relationships with Josh have helped him to find his value and importance in life.

We look forward to continued mentoring and discipleship with Josh.  You see, God has a plan for each of these young men who are willing to accept the mentor’s hand extended to them as “the hands and feet of Jesus”. Yes, you are the hands and feet of Jesus. As a mentor, another inmate, or a relative, or a friend, you can see God in action, putting young lives back together.

In America, one out of every seven families has been touched by a family member doing time. Too often, the offender is just a kid who can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, if good Christian men and women will make the effort…it takes just an hour or two a month. The need is huge, and the rewards are amazing!

Is it time for you to invest in the lives of others?  What can you do?  You can send these guys encouraging Birthday cards and Christmas cards, or get involved with mentoring by mail… starting with the simple communication of an encouragement card that you send with a few words of Christian encouragement, such as, “God Loves YOU!” or, “I am praying for your health and safety”, or a bible verse that is uplifting.

There are Birthday card lists and Christmas card lists, as well as additional stories about Josh and other ‘Boys Behind Bars at the web page


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