During the Unashamed tour, rapper Lecrae and members of 116 Clique visited a men’s prison in Texas to encourage the inmates, support them, and listen to their stories. While it’s easy for many of us to forget there are men and women behind bars or even to think that they don’t deserve our sympathy, Lecrae says that is not how God treats us:
“A lot of times when people commit shameful acts, we throw them away. And God never does that.”
The video of Lecrae’s visit, which he posted on his YouTube channel, was produced through Prison Fellowship, a non-profit that ministers to incarcerated men and women, as well as those impacted by incarceration. Lecrae and his fellow rappers, including Andy Mineo and Tedashii, stopped by the Carol S. Vance Unit, a minimum security prison in Richmond, Texas. While there, Lecrae and his crew ate, rapped, talked, and played basketball with the inmates. Lecrae said he feels an affinity for the prison population because he grew up visiting his uncles and his father in prison. “It’s almost like I’m connecting with people that society has forgotten about,” he said. “So for me, it’s a passion.”
At one point, Lecrae asked some of the men what they’ve learned while being incarcerated. One answered he’s learned to be less selfish and to think about the people depending on him. Another said his takeaway is that it’s not too late, but that God is a God of restoration.
In a separate Prison Fellowship video containing bonus footage, one of the inmates thanked Lecrae and expressed how “impactful” it was for him and the other men to see “guys just like us” pursuing what was right and living for Christ. Lecrae countered that, if anything, his visit was just a bookmark in the men’s stories to remind them that those stories weren’t over yet. “We just came to be like, hey–be encouraged,” he said.
Breaking the Cycle
During their visit, the 116 crew stopped by a Prison Fellowship Academy (PFA) class. PFA is an “intensive, biblically based program that takes incarcerated men and women through a holistic life transformation process.” There, the men discussed forgiveness, building trust, and the importance of being vulnerable. Lecrae talked about how Satan plays the “long game” and cultivates generational patterns of sin in families.
According to Prison Fellowship, 2.2 million people are incarcerated, 95 percent of prisoners get released, and two out of three will be rearrested. To Lecrae, visiting the men in prison is part of encouraging them to break out of those destructive cycles. He encouraged them, however, that God uses all of the brokenness in our lives for good. “God doesn’t waste pain, and He doesn’t waste the experiences,” he told the class. “Ya’ll’s situation is molding ya’ll into the men that God ultimately wants ya’ll to be.”
But when they get out of prison, finding a supportive community will be crucial, something Lecrae stressed to one of the inmates at one point. Freedom comes with dangerous opportunities. In some ways, living in prison is easier than living outside of it because the environment is so controlled. “I think just hearing guys have a plan for the other side of the gate, that’s big for me,” said Lecrae, “because sometimes it’s easy to, you know, be disciplined when everything is kind of set up for you to be disciplined.”
At the same time, if people are willing to learn from their circumstances, prison is a kind of “wilderness” that gives men and women time to seek God in a focused way. Said Lecrae, “They’re probably closer to God than a lot of us in the free world right now because they’re spending that concentrated time with the Lord, and we have to discipline ourselves to do it. So I’m just glad to come and learn and listen and hear some stories and be encouraged.”
But those who are in prison still need to be reminded that, just as God didn’t reject David, Moses, or any of us, He has not rejected them. Lecrae said, “These are people that need love and need encouragement and that the world kind of forgets about. God still loves them, so, so do I.”