Impact Stories

Impact Story: Meet Penny Willoughby

I want to start with a verse. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness; Lamentations 3:22-23

I was a normal kid. I was extremely book smart and a bit of a loner. I married my high school sweetheart when I was 19 and in college. After college we found out I could not get pregnant and we later divorced. I had been with him since I was 16 and this was the first time I was able to make my own decisions without considering anyone else. Those decisions were not very good for many years.

At 24 my whole outlook on life changed. I had a good job using my degree and made good money. However, I was very unhappy. I started going to the bar every night. I learned how to play pool and I drank a lot. I met a guy in my regular bar. He was a bit older than me but we hit it right off. This started a long distance relationship that probably both ruined and saved my life. 

He was kind and didn't need to belittle anyone to feel better about himself. We had a lot of fun and we both loved music. Neither one of us had children, and we both knew how to work hard. He was very experienced at playing hard on the weekends. He was a true weekend warrior. I had never experimented with class A drugs until this time. 

I began using meth, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol every weekend. However, I was not a very good weekend warrior (I was more like a all day every day and I have the money to do it warrior). My life began to spiral out of control (both from not really having a purpose and the drug use). It did not help that I could fully function at work while on drugs.

Eventually I started losing jobs where I was making over $50,000 per year (by not showing up for work, failing the employment UA). Then I started catching cases (couldn't drive without drugs and paraphernalia in my car, cashed forged checks for my dealer, would not go see my probation officer). Then I went to prison for the first time. It sucked but I only went for 11 months. This was the beginning of end. Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest Matthew 11:28

In the county jail, I began to read the bible and it drew me in as I did the bible studies provided by the Oklahoma County jail. I also did bible studies from the Church of Christ and met with the volunteers once a week. I was baptized in the Oklahoma County jail by the Church of Christ in 2003. O Lord my God, I cried out to You and You healed me Psalm 30:2

In prison, I went to church, all kinds of churches. Church was good it kept me from getting in trouble or letting others push me to get in trouble. I paroled to Muskogee. I continued to attend church and we moved back to Oklahoma City.

One night I thought it would be a good idea to get high. I did and did not stop. I had caught a new felony on New Year's Day. I did not even make it a year out of prison. I did not understand how it could have happened. I had lost all hope! This time I got Drug Court. I was so grateful for this. This was my first attempt at recovery. I was required to attend 12 step meetings. I got a sponsor and worked my steps. I was in drug court so really relapse was not an option. 

I graduated Drug Court sanction free (no relapses). I had a perfect little boy, my son, on Valentine's Day. One week after I graduated Oklahoma County Drug Court, I relapsed. After this relapse, I was just lost. My life was out of control.  Eventually, DHS removed my son from me. We did everything they told us to do and we got custody of our son back in less than 6 months. 

I relapsed again, and eventually, was arrested again. Then 11 days later, I was arrested again. We moved our son to Muskogee. In Muskogee, I was determined to get clean and stay clean. I used everything I learned from my previous incarceration, probations, and drug court to stay clean and sober.

At 90 days clean I went to take care of a misdemeanor warrant and was arrested for another felony in a third county. As much as I tried to manipulate my way out of a prison sentence it wasn't meant to be. God's plan was to allow me to go to prison. I was very angry about this for a long time. But I also knew I was not following God and my son deserved a mother who loved him and God more than drugs. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways my ways. Isaiah 55:8

Being sentenced this time was almost unbearable for me. I felt shame and horror over my life choices and how they were now affecting my school aged son. I knew from this point forward, I would do everything in my power to become a Godly woman. I wanted to heal my family and I wanted my son to have a chance at life.

But by putting God first and having faith he would work it out, I was able to come to terms (slowly) with the fact that the answer was no to going home, I would have to go to prison. I ended up signing for 2 fives and a six all running CC. I was crushed and cried for a whole day. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds Psalm 147:3.

I had made my bed (and my son's too). I knew all the consequences. I made those choices fully informed of what would happen (this was not my first or second or even third rodeo). Only God could watch over and protect them. I know I became a prayer warrior because of this. I prayed in the morning and in the evening. Life was not perfect but I had a peace about me that God would take care of it, I just needed to keep doing what I was doing. 

I was in program called G1 in prison or GenesisOne. It's concept is that if inmates choose to become accountable and develop a spiritual relationship with God they would be less likely to recidivate. I was all in. I am still involved in this prison ministry today. To proclaim freedom for the captives Isaiah 61:1

Genesis One taught me how different my morals are from God's holiness. It gave a safe place to strive to improve my character with other like minded women. The volunteers who came in were loving and rich in the knowledge of God and accountability. One day Chanda Robinson came into the meeting. She had been in and out of prison most of her life. Yet she was coming in with Genesis One and had completely turned her life around. I wanted what she had and I set out to get it.

When I was released, I went to the potluck in Tulsa with John Easly. This is where I met Sean Burgland. He was another Genesis One success story. To this day, I know I am successful after prison due to Genesis One and Chanda and Sean's example and John Easly's vision of changing our character to reduce recidivism.

An old boss of mine had responded to an email I had sent him while I was in work release. I reached out to him and he called me in for an interview. I got the job and we moved to Edmond. I was making AWESOME money for 3 months out of prison. I was paying my fines off. I was able to get my license back. All of these things were possible and were a priority, because this is how Genesis One members clean up our side of the street. We put every effort to into closing that old prison door and being of service to the next person who needs our help or our example.

The one thing I could do in my busy schedule was be faithful to attend and assist with the monthly potluck. I was able to share my successes and my set backs with the offenders at lower security who are allowed to attend the monthly dinner. After 18 months I applied for and received my DOC Volunteer Badge to go in like Chanda. From November 2014 till Covid I went into different prisons 6+ times a month taking in the Genesis One message. 

Life has not been perfect. I have a lot of issues that drugs and being a criminal have nothing to do with and those issues are deep and pervasive to my personality. Church without recovery did not work for me and caused me to be hopeless on relapse. Recovery without Christ caused me to get lazy and just quit and start using again, thinking I could control it.

One thing I do weekly is attend Memorial Road Church of Christ. Jerry Way the prison minister for them always makes time to help me be a good Godly prison volunteer.  Prior to Covid I was allowed to bring up to 4 Genesis One ladies to Friday night Celebrate Recovery there. 

I have had several job changes since being released from prison, but I have never quit a job. I always finish my contracts and God eases my fear of finding a position with my background by opeing doors no one but God can open. I celebrated 9 years clean and sober on July 8, 2020. All praise and glory goes to God the father. Lots of thanks go to Genesis One, Chanda Robinson, and Memorial Road Church of Christ Celebrate Recovery team.

Not everyone who has a substance abuse problem goes to prison or loses their children. But I was one of those people and if God can change me, make me more lovable and less tragic, then he surely can do it for you or your loved one. And not only can He do it, but He will. He is waiting for you to ask. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice, and envy, hateful, hating one another. Titus 3:3. 

He was merciful and just to allow me have severe consequences for my actions and allowing me to go to prison and leave my son behind. By doing this I now have a mustard seed of faith. This mustard seed seems to expand the harder times get. I do not understand how this works but I do know that while incarcerated I learned that I have control over very little outside of my own body. I learned to pray and have faith in God. Not to perform to my every whim, but to be God and help me understand when it was not how I would have had it. Proverbs 35:6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding: In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (NIV).

Today I am able to look someone in the eye and explain my past. Today I can be of service to others instead of living a life never being satisfied. This allows me to feel very satisfied most of the time. Today I can recognize my triggers and behaviors, acknowledge my shortcomings and defects (new or old). I still find myself making amends and peace with my past.  1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

I am so grateful for all the prison volunteers who came to the prison to see me. I know I do not deserve to raise my son, still have a family, own or drive a car, the job I have now, my family, my freedom, my salvation. Thank God Jesus died to NOT give us we deserve, but instead to reconcile us to a God who knew all the bad things I have done or will do, but created me anyway. I know that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Genesis One and all the volunteers gave me hope. The hope that I can live a changed life and be a part of others changing their lives too.  

Impact Story: Meet Kevin Shafer

Kevin spent eighteen years of his life incarcerated, his time in was broken up into three incarcerations. He could never break free. During his time in the county jail after his third arrest he had a life changing encounter. It was while he was waiting to go back to prison that Kevin met Jesus and accepted him as his Lord and Savior. He had been counseled to follow Christ in baptism and that was his goal when he landed at Holdenville, but his stay there was too short to get it approved. Back on the transport bus, he was being shipped to Jim E. Hamilton.

The first day on the yard at JEHCC he saw an old friend he had made years back at another prison, Chris Tate. They got caught up on the paths their lives had taken and Kevin shared his salvation experience with Chris, telling him he wanted to get baptized. Chris took Kevin to the chapel where he just happened to be a clerk for chaplain Gibson who was visiting with his volunteer chaplain Ed Adams. Kevin shared his request to be baptized and was sent back to his unit to get a change of clothes and a towel. Kevin was baptized his first day at JEHCC, but his journey was just beginning.

Chris invited Kevin to go with him to a Genesis One meeting at the chapel. He liked what he saw and was given a new member handbook to look over to see how the program worked. It made sense, and the guys were friendly. He decided to join and was put in an accountability group where he began to deal with his past, accept his present and start planning for his future.

In the accountability group he grew closer to the members of his group and a bond was built. After six months as a member, he was approached to serve as an accountability leader. Kevin held that position in G1 for the seven years he was at Jim Hamilton. He landed a job as a clerk in the chapel, which led to his being selected to serve as the facilitator of the Victory Bible Institute. He had been the top student and the leader had discharged. He took over and led the program for the last two years he was at JEHCC.

Kevin made an impact in the lives of men while he served out his time, remaining active in church services, VBI, and Genesis One. But, just as importantly, he’s continued making an impact since he discharged. He had been a member of a praise team in prison, playing the bass and sometimes the drums if needed. Upon release, one of the volunteers who led worship services invited Kevin to come and join his church and play in their praise band. This pastor mentored Kevin and helped him find work.

Kevin lived at an RV park for the first year after discharging and married Donna, a G1 volunteer, and then they got a house and moved so another G1 member would have a place to live when he discharged as the RV park became a place where former inmates could get housing and get on their feet. Overall, Kevin has helped over 5 men find a place to live, and he has helped them find work, many times working with him in his handyman business until they can find a full time job. Donna served as a G1 volunteer at Eddie Warrior, and Kevin and Donna together have helped several of the women with transportation, housing, and finding furniture.

Kevin, always willing to help, put together a G1 praise band that has played in churches and at the Tulsa G1 potluck, sharing the story of G1 and the difference it has made in his life and the lives of the members of the praise band.

From a three time incarcerated offender to an entrepreneur with his own business, A to Z Handyman Services, Kevin has made a positive impact. He has been restored to his family, he has helped men and women coming out of prison and he continues to be active in his work and support of G1.