Bikers bring God’s message to Prison
What do ardent bikers and prison ministry have in common? Not much − unless you happen to be husband and wife team Scotty and Jessica Santiago. The couple founded Passion for Prison in August 2003 because they wanted to use their love of biking to reach prisoners and help them to know Christ as they do.
“As a teen, I was arrested. It was not until I got a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that my life changed, so I wanted to let others know that Jesus really did change lives,” Jessica remarks.
She received her first motorcycle in February of 2003 from a complete stranger who said the Lord told him to give her the motorcycle. Of course, she had to learn how to ride it in order to accept the gift, so after just three days of practice, Jessica rode from Hernando County to Avon Park Correctional Institution for her first prison yard event. It happened to be where one of her high school friends was serving a life sentence.
After volunteering with other ministries and then starting their own (without a name), Jessica’s prayer partner commented that she, too, had a passion for prison. Jessica decided that would be a perfect name for their ministry − Passion for Prison. Not long after that, they formed a 501(c )(3) non-profit ministry.
Motorcycles are an integral part of their mission. Because inmates live with up to 1,500 other inmates, they aren’t always likely to want to come out and talk to another person. However, many will leave the dorm to visit the recreation yard to see the motorcycles and speak with the volunteer riders. From that point, the volunteers can share common interests and experiences, encourage the inmates to open up, and then offer their testimony about Jesus Christ.
Once a week, the Santiagos and some of their volunteers visit the Hernando Correctional Facility, roaring in on their motorcycles and talking with the inmates. They also hold a chapel service there. However, their ministry reaches far beyond Hernando County. The group has visited prisons in several other states, including Texas, South Carolina, and Mississippi. They have even been to Puerto Rico and a women’s prison in Hawaii.
Nothing will deter them from their mission. Once, the truck they were driving, with their motorcycle trailer attached, broke down on the Mississippi/Louisiana state line. They had to unload the bikes and ride the rest of the way to the prison. They made it to their destination on time, even with a tornado warning in the midst of their path.
Passion for Prison is making a remarkable difference in the lives of the inmates. More than 80 percent of those released will commit another crime within three years, some even just a few months afterward, and usually a worse crime than their first one. However, of those who create a sincere relationship with Christ, less than 10 percent will return to prison. Their ministry is not only changing the inmate’s life but also making their communities safer places in which to live.
Over the past twenty years, there have been dozens of success stories. For example, one prisoner was serving a double life sentence. After accepting the Lord, there was a change in the law, and he was released with “time served.” They gave him one of their motorcycles, and then he rode back into the same prison as a volunteer.
Letters and emails they’ve received from some of the prisoners are other testaments to their success. For example, an inmate named Alma wrote: “…in a place like this, it’s hard to find a constant presence that is of a positive nature. I met Jessica in July of 2006, and I felt an instant connection with her…”
Carl wrote: “…it’s a great thing that you all do for us here in prison, and you bring a lot of joy to a lot of people just by sharing us your bikes and spreading the Word of God at the same time…”
The organization has also received letters of thanks and appreciation from Hernando Correctional Institution, the Florida Department of Corrections, as well as churches and other organizations.
Passion for Prison has approximately 24 volunteers at present, many of them ex-prisoners, but there is always a need for more.
Despite the challenges that Jessica and Scotty face, such as weather and red tape to get into the various correctional facilities, there are many rewards. When Jessica quit her job to volunteer full-time in the prison ministry, she was told she was throwing her career away.
“Seeing a changed life is more valuable than any paycheck I have ever earned,” states Jessica.
To learn more about Passion for Prison or volunteer, call 813-786-8303 or email: [email protected]. You can go to their website www.passionforprison.com for additional testimonials, photos, and copies of artwork done by the inmates. Follow them on their Facebook page to see the current activities of the ministry.