My name is Mary .
I have held people at gun-point, staged bank robberies and organized a prison break. I am highly skilled with a .357 Magnum and an expert safecracker.
I have been the target of a mafia contract, faced thirty-five charges in four states plus eleven federal indictments, and am on the Most Wanted List.
Or I was.
Now I am in solitary confinement, facing twenty-one years in prison.
When my children visit me at Christmastime, they smile when I give them my little gift, wrapped in scraps of paper. Imagine a child getting excited over a little bar of soap, a comb, shampoo or toothpaste! How desperate does a child have to be to appreciate that kind of Christmas gift?
Very desperate. I haven’t done anything to make them proud of me, but they are desperate to love their mama, because that is what children do. It’s in their DNA. They love the one that brought them into the world, and they cherish anything that comes from her hand.
They want a mother, and this is as close as they get to having one. It’s what they want most in the whole world, and now they can go back to their little friends and tell them they got a Christmas present from their mama. Finally, this year they don’t have to lie.
So now I’m on a different kind of Most Wanted List, no doubt the subject of their innocent little bedtime prayers. Dear God, please get my mama out of prison and bring her home.
* * * * *
For many inmates, being disconnected from their children is the most painful part of their lives. But through an organization called Angel Tree, children of inmates can receive Christmas presents from their parent. For the prisoners who haven’t seen their children since they were incarcerated (which is nearly half of them), this provides a desperately needed link, a gesture of love and care.
The majority of prisoners are held more than 100 miles from where their children live, yet through local churches these sons and daughters can find a wrapped present under a tree with a card signed by Mom or Dad.
It isn’t the stuffed bear or the building blocks that work the magic. Knowing that a beloved parent thinks about them, cares about them, misses and loves them is what causes their hearts to swell and their eyes to sparkle.
Through its work, Angel Tree offers inmates and their families reconciliation to God and to one another. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, commemorating Mary Kay Beard’s leadership in helping the inmates of Birmingham, Alabama connect with their children. The letter above narrates Mary Kay’s story, and in 1982 after she was released, she joined with Prison Fellowship to direct attention to the most innocent of all victims of crime by organizing Angel Tree.
You can help Angel Tree by praying for the success of their work, which goes on all year to bring healing and reconciliation. Or you can talk to your church about being involved, make a gift of your time or donate money.
What a fitting way to celebrate the birth of Christ, the very one who came to set captives spiritually free.