This article was originally published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal.
Pauline Rogers’ first experience in a court room was testifying about her father’s murder. Then just 9 years old, Pauline had watched her mother shoot him.
“I helped her put him in the car,” she admits. “He died en route to the hospital.”
The court ruled it a case of self-defense, and Pauline’ mother wasn’t convicted.
After that, “my mother became a workaholic … she was never around,” Pauline explains. And as a young girl growing up on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, Pauline began taking responsibility for her 10 younger siblings.
They were so poor, she explains, that she would look in the newspaper to find out which churches were having funerals. She would dress up her siblings and take them to the church, where they would always find a meal.
It wasn’t long before she began stealing simple things to help provide for her family, like a bag of rice, meat, or hair bands.
“I stole from department stores, dollar stores, grocery stores … if it was in walking distance from me, it was a target.”
She was 11 the first time she was caught. At that point, the police officer just pulled her aside, explained that she shouldn’t steal, paid for the stolen goods, and drove her home. But that wasn’t enough to wake Pauline up. She was arrested a couple more times after that without facing serious consequences. But in her late twenties, her behavior finally caught up with her, and she landed a six-year prison sentence.
“I was not the Savior”
But sitting in county jail, even before she went to prison, Pauline met a Prison Fellowship volunteer who introduced her to Jesus.
That turned everything around, Pauline explains. The volunteer helped her realize that it was not her responsibility to take care of her siblings.
“I knew that I could depend on God. I was not the Savior … it freed me.”
By the time she got to prison Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, Rogers was intent upon taking advantage of every opportunity she could—particularly the programs offered by Prison Fellowship: life-skills training, discipleship, and mentoring opportunities. She also worked for the chaplain, a woman named Wendy Hatcher, who continued to mentor Pauline along her journey as a follower of Jesus.
Wendy said she noticed something special after meeting Pauline at a Bible study.
“I liked her a lot. I felt like I could trust her. She was intelligent and able to assist me in a lot of things.”
Pauline helped Wendy with standard chaplain assistant tasks like paperwork, but Wendy also called upon her for assistance with more nuanced chaplain duties, like ministering to other prisoners.
“If there was a death in an inmate’s family, I would take her with me” to meet with the prisoner to comfort them and help them through the grieving process.
Daughter Becomes Mother to Many
Pauline did three years on a six-year term, and when she was released in 1987, Hatcher allowed her to come and live with her in Jackson. Over time, Wendy came to see Pauline as her daughter and wanted to provide a temporary home for her.
Over the next four years, while she was living with Wendy, Pauline was hired by a doctor—a volunteer whom Pauline had met when she was in prison —to work as a janitor in her office. Over time, the staff recognized Pauline could do more than clean, and her responsibilities grew as she continued to work there for the next 27 years.
She also got involved with a church—New Horizon Church International—and married Fred, also a former prisoner whom she had met while incarcerated. She also began volunteering with Prison Fellowship, going back into prison to minister and organizing Angel Tree. Under Pauline’s leadership, New Horizon provides gifts to hundreds of children every Christmas through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program.
With Fred, she even started her own ministry to others coming out of prison. Over the past several years, Pauline and Fred have opened their home to 20 some ex-prisoners and have helped just as many get back on their feet.
Henry Daniels was one of those they helped.
Locked up for 34 years, Henry knew Fred when they were both in prison. When Henry was released in 2006, the Rogers gave him a temporary home and helped him get a job at a restaurant. Today, Henry has his own landscaping business and works parking lot security at New Horizon.
“They helped me get adjusted back to society. I don’t know what I would have did if it hadn’t been for them,” he says.
A Shiny New Penny
Just recently, Pauline learned about an opening for a field director for Prison Fellowship in Mississippi, and she jumped at the opportunity.
From a little lost girl to the director of a ministry that reaches out to families like hers, Pauline can only say that her life is one of amazing transformation.
“I feel like an old, dirty, crusty penny that was on the ground that no one wanted to pick up and peopled had trampled on. But somebody saw some value in that penny and picked it up and cleaned up it, and added more pennies to it. Prison Fellowship is just one more thing that is adding value to that penny.”