How To Be An Angel Like Prisoner Mary Kay Beard

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maryKbeard.jpgWant to do something altruistic for Christmas? Want to be a blessing to those who will never be able to reciprocate? “Now why would I want to do that?” you ask. Because the Spirit of Christmas is about giving, just as Christ gave His life for you!

Have you heard about the Angel Tree® Ministry?

Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree® is the only nationwide, year-round effort that specifically reaches out to the estimated 2.3 million children in the United States whose parent or parents are incarcerated.

Angel Tree® provides Christmas care as well as activities throughout the year — such as summer camping and mentoring relationships — through its network of thousands of local churches across the country, to help break the intergenerational cycle of crime and reconcile prisoners and their children.

Angel Tree® is about parent-child reconciliation and families helping families. Thousands of families from churches across the country “adopt” an Angel Tree child each Christmas and provide much-needed assistance and love, given on behalf of the incarcerated parent.

By every measure, prisoners’ children are the most severely at-risk children and youth in America. Studies show that children of prisoners are five to seven times more likely to end up in prison themselves. (U.S. News & World Report, April 2002 and Bureau of Justice and Statistics 2000) Angel Tree® is an important way to reach out to these kids struggling to deal with the anger, hurt and disappointment they may feel because of their parent’s incarceration.

Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree® Ministry partners up with 12,000 churches every year. These churches put up a Christmas Tree in their foyer, and then decorate it with paper angels, each one giving the name, sex, and age of a child whose parent is incarcerated. (I always pick a boy since I’m familiar with boys’ toys and clothes.) You choose an angel, look at the info, and then go shopping! This is great for those who do not have young children at home for Christmas. Sort of gets the juices going and creates that Happy Christmas mood!

Angel Tree® is celebrating its twenty-sixth anniversary this year! It was started in 1982 by a modern-day “Bonnie” (of Bonnie and Clyde fame), Mary Kay Beard. Mary Kay knew everything there was to know about banks, safes, and guns. She spent years of her life on the run and on the FBI “Most Wanted” list.

But eventually, Mary Kay’s boldness and arrogance caught up. She crossed the Mafia on a diamond heist, and they put out a contract on her life.

Happily, the FBI found her first, arresting her in Peoria, Illinois. Within a few days, the warrants began arriving at the jail. In addition to 11 federal indictments, four states filed 35 charges against her, ranging from grand larceny to armed robbery. She was told she would spend between 75 and 180 years behind bars.

But she didn’t. Released after serving less than six years, she soon married ex-prisoner Don Beard and joined Prison Fellowship as an area director for Alabama, where she created Angel Tree® twenty years ago this Christmas.

Mary Kay grew up with a Christian mother and an alcoholic abusive father. She was an over-achiever in school, became a nurse, and then married the best safe cracker in America. She didn’t think his mistakes would affect her, but of course she was wrong.

While in prison she noticed other prisoners saving trial size shampoos, toothpastes, and soaps which they wrapped up and put aside for Christmas when their children would visit them. It occurred to her that children do not care what the gift is as long as they know they are first loved. That was the beginning,like a tiny mustard seed, in her heart of a prison ministry that reached out to the children.

She received her Master’s Degree in Education in 1982. Then she received a new challenge—from Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship—to become their first Alabama State Director and the first woman to serve in a Prison Fellowship state leadership position. After carefully praying about the offer with friends at her church, Mary Kay joined the Prison Fellowship staff in April of 1982.

One of her first jobs was to come up with a Christmas project. Her churches and volunteers asked which prisons they would visit and what gifts would they take. Mary Kay said, “Everyone does that. Let’s do something different!”

Christmas Trees in Church foyers decorated with red angels for girls, green angels for boys. And the rest is history. Angel Tree Ministry was on its way!

Since the program’s inception in 1982, more than 7.5 million children of prisoners have received some 14 million Angel Tree gifts nationwide.

For info on how to participate, visit www.angeltree.org or call 1-800-55-ANGEL.

You’ll be glad you got involved! It will kick those holiday doldrums out of your heart, and some child who is lonely will get all those great gifts you bought. He will be told they are from his incarcerated parent, and he will know he is truly loved even though Mama or Daddy is in prison. What a gift!!

Offered by April Lorier, 2008

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