A Prisoner's Daughter Reconciles Children Back to Their Incarcerated Parents

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Her childhood filled with disappointment, anger and self-doubt should have left her scarred for life. Instead, Scottie Barnes is on a mission to bring hope and healing to the heartbroken children of prison inmates.

SUNDAY AFTERNOONS WERE DIFFERENT for little Scottie. Instead of spending her free hours playing with neighborhood friends, reading a favorite storybook or enjoying a refreshing catnap, she was making memories of another kind. Her childhood recollections include barbed-wire fencing, heavy security gates and stern prison guards.

Throughout her young life, Scottie's father was in and out of jails and prisons all across the Southeast. Despite his bootlegging, gambling and drug dealing ways, Scottie's mother loved James "Babe" Pennell and was faithful to visit him every weekend. Scottie tagged along for many years. But the visits offered her no joy, no comfort and no peace.

"When I was little, I didn't understand why Mother cried all the way home and why we always left Daddy where he was," Scottie says. "By the time I was in seventh grade, I didn't want my friends to know where I went every Sunday of my life." There was never a visit when Scottie heard her father say the words, "I love you."

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One Sunday morning Scottie noticed a new spring in her mother's step. This trip to the prison was going to be a happy one. Babe Pennell was being released. Scottie's mom would bring her husband home and, finally, they would be a real family.

But the simple dream she has would never come true. "When we got to the prison and Mother asked to see Daddy," Scottie recalls, "the guard said, 'I'm very sorry ma'am, but Mr. Pennell left with his wife just a few minutes ago.'" Scottie wouldn't see her father again until after the birth of her first child.

BEAUTY FROM ASHES "Isn't it just like God to take a life of pain and turn it into something beautiful?" Scottie Barnes told SpiritLed Woman.

Today, this 58-year-old wife, mother and grandmother is also the founder and president of Forgiven Ministry. She works tirelessly to bring the good news of God's love and forgiveness to those behind prison walls. And there's a special place in her heart for the children of these inmates. Scottie expresses great concern for their futures.

"Nearly 2 million American children under the age of 18 have an imprisoned parent," she says. "They're the most at-risk children in the world today. Many are trapped in a dangerous and destructive cycle that will most likely land them in a prison cell, too."

Because Scottie has walked in their shoes and understands the loneliness, shame and fear that accompany their sad circumstances, she wanted to do something to break the cycle. "These little children are so empty inside and they're using everything you can think of to fill that black hole," she says. "The thing we want to give them is not only the love of their earthly father, but the love of their Heavenly Father."

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