Note: I realize that with continued high unemployment, a lagging economy and the spectre of rising taxes and inflation has a lot of people concerned. Your giving to seasonal-oriented charities may be limited, perhaps much less than last year. Whether you want to give to Angel Tree or some other organization for Christmas, please do so with a cheerful heart and remember to ask God to multiply your offering. The following Angel Tree account is reprinted in its entirety.
Chris Cleveland’s 30-year journey with drugs began when he smoked his first joint at age 12, the year his parents divorced. By 16, Cleveland was expelled from high school.
“My formal education stopped there,” laments Cleveland, but his addictions took off. A self-described “highly functioning addict,” he held down a series of jobs as a bounty hunter, bail bondsman and corrections officer while abusing drugs.
After Cleveland’s mother died of cancer, he descended into a four-year cycle of drug abuse and arrests, blowing through his sizable inheritance, his salary and the profits from frequent thefts.
By then Cleveland was married and had a young son named Christopher. The family moved constantly, and Cleveland and his wife had volatile confrontations. To compensate, he sometimes gave his son lavish gifts purchased with stolen credit cards.
Though arrested dozens of times, Cleveland used connections and manipulation to evade prosecution, until his actions finally caught up with him in 2002. Facing 69 felony charges, he left behind his 8-year-old son and entered the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
Living in 23-hour lockdown, Cleveland said that he spoke to his son only about once a year – until Angel Tree® reconnected them.
“Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree gave me a way to connect with my son when nothing else was working,” said Cleveland.
A program of Prison Fellowship, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families, Angel Tree reaches out at Christmas and throughout the year to children who have a parent in prison. While Prison Fellowship works to reconcile prisoners and ex-prisoners to their families and communities, its Angel Tree program addresses the need which every child has – the need to feel loved by mom and dad.
Just like some 275,000 other prisoners that year, Cleveland had registered his son to receive Christmas gifts delivered by Prison Fellowship volunteers – gifts designated with a tag “From Dad.” When Christopher received a basketball, he soon shared a phone call with his father.
“All Christopher could talk about was his basketball,” remembers Cleveland. “All of the expensive things that I gave to him when I was a mess weren’t important to him, but that basketball from Angel Tree gave him hope.”
Since 1982, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree has allowed some 8.6 million children to have a meaningful point of connection with their parents. And just like with Christopher Cleveland, whose dad came out of prison in 2006, Angel Tree has lowered the odds of recidivism for the prisoner-parent while encouraging the parent-child bond – a bond that is tremendously important in breaking the intergenerational cycle of crime.
“I know what it’s like to feel scared and lonely at Christmas and wonder if my dad cared about me,” said Christopher. “I love being able to do something special for these kids who are missing their mom or dad so much.”
Since his release from prison, Cleveland has thrown himself into caring for Christopher, now a 16-year-old football player. He supports his family by running his own business, has launched a nonprofit ministry to support ex-offenders with re-entry tools, receives support and mentoring through Prison Fellowship and has completed all of his parole requirements and earned a recommendation for full pardon.
This Christmas, Cleveland and Christopher are joining thousands of churches and individuals to help 390,000 prisoners’ children across the U.S. know that they are loved and not forgotten by their incarcerated parent. Like every Christmas since Cleveland’s release, the father and son will volunteer through their church to purchase and distribute Angel Tree gifts in their community, giving back to the program that transformed their relationship.
Individuals not affiliated with an Angel Tree church can also provide gifts this year by making an online cash donation, or for $11.44 they can choose a child’s age, gender and home state and give a gift on behalf of his or her incarcerated parent.
To find a participating church in your area or to give online, visit www.AngelTree.org or call 1-800-55-ANGEL.
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