Ann White approaches the metal detector, placing bags on a table beside her. Before crossing the threshold, she checks one last time to make sure her pockets are empty. Once through security at the correctional center in Chillicothe, Missouri, White breathes a sigh of relief when she is given the all-clear. A guard silently walks her to a beige meeting room inside the facility. She places a workbook and Bible at every seat, and she prays for each of the 20 women who will attend her discipleship training.
As participants trickle into the room, White sees aspects of herself in the eyes of each individual weighed down by past wounds. For most of her life, she too had carried emotional scars and walked as if weighed down by sacks of stones. The constant fear of her father’s anger and her mother’s codependency left her seeking safety elsewhere. By the age of 13 she was turning to alcohol for solace.
Though she did find Christ in her late teens, it wasn’t until her 40s that White began to understand the sanctification process and nurture a faith capable of confronting her mental and emotional trauma. “Initially, I surrendered and had the heart change, but I didn’t know how to change the rest of me.”
As her walk with the Lord developed, she had a revelation: She wasn’t the only woman in church falling apart on the inside while pretending to have it all together. Inspired by pastors including Dr. Stanley, White realized God was calling her to strengthen, equip, and empower women. Doors began opening in the most unexpected places—most notably, prisons throughout the United States.
“For many women, painful experiences led to poor choices that resulted in painful consequences,” White says. Nearly 231,000 females are incarcerated in the United States, and the number is growing at a rate faster than that of their male counterparts. So the need for discipleship has never been greater, but vital resources created specifically for women are tragically uncommon.
In the beginning of her ministry, printed materials were easy enough to provide. But for women who have reading struggles, access to God’s Word by other means was unavailable. Then, through the In Touch Messenger Lab, the Lord answered White’s prayers with the Messenger Freedom—a simplified, translucent audio Bible that meets the stringent requirements of prisons.
White’s training sessions in women’s prisons give inmates the opportunity to become vulnerable and share their stories of loss and heartache. And she rejoices in seeing the hope of Christ replace their shame and self-condemnation. White knows that each gathering has not only led individuals further toward healing but has also equipped them to continue their journey with Jesus Christ. “Although they are still incarcerated,” she says, “their hearts and spirits are freer than they’ve ever been!”
Photography by Ben Rollins