Bringing Hope Inside: Changing The Fate of Incarcerated Youth

Reuben Ramsaran is the pastor at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale who oversees the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Life . This Life has the awesome opportunity to bring the hope of the gospel into Broward County’s juvenile correctional facilities. Having 5 children of his own, Reuben knows firsthand what it takes to impact kids for Christ in today’s day-and-age. We sat down over a cup of coffee a few weeks back, and I asked him to share how the Life is impacting these youthful offenders with the truth of Jesus.

Justin Young (JY): Can you tell me what happens to a juvenile when they are arrested here in Broward?
Reuben Ramasaran (RR): When a kid gets arrested, they go to a place called JAC, which stands for Juvenile Assessment Center. They will spend the first 24 hours there. At that point, their parents are notified of the arrest, they are searched, their personal belongings are taken and they are put into an orange jumpsuit. Then they enter a 21-day phase where they will go through the court system and either be sentenced or released. Every child who gets arrested in Broward, whether because of shoplifting or murder, comes through this facility. The cool thing is that we get to present the gospel there every week. Every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., these kids are getting a Bible study, prayed with and they’re getting loved on.

JY: Can you tell me about a particular kid you met during one of those outreaches?
RR: I met one kid who carved a cross out of soap and hid it in his pants. He was so afraid of what he had done. He shot his friend by accident point-blank in the chest and watched his friend die right in front of him. His mom called us to go visit him and he was so afraid of death and being in jail that he carved that cross. He wasn’t a Christian, he didn’t know much about Jesus, but he knew that the cross would bring him comfort and safety.
Every kid thinks they’re going to be raped or jumped when they get to one of these places, so it’s a scary thing.

JY: Does it happen often that a parent will reach out to your Life and ask someone to go visit their child?
RR: Yes, every week we get calls from parents asking us to go minister to their child who has been incarcerated. We have a great relationship with most of these facilities so we can sometimes get in when others can’t.

JY: What do you think drives most of the kids to commit the crimes that they commit?
RR: Ultimately, I think a lot of it comes from brokenness in their lives. A lot of these kids have been physically, sexually, or verbally abused and have never been able to deal with the resulting issues. An overwhelming number come from single-parent homes and feel abandoned. I believe a lot of it also comes from what the Bible talks about in James 1:12 – that each of us are led away by our own desires and enticed. Most of these kids have never been taught how to say “no” to themselves, and the “I want it now” mentality then leads to crimes like theft, rape, drugs, etc.

JY: What is it like when you get a chance to go in and interact with these kids?
RR: The main thing that hits you is that these kids are just longing for a connection with a solid man or woman. I’ve had kids come and just sit next to me and not say a word. They just want that connection. A lot of times, the fact that they are talking to someone who has a job, hasn’t been to jail, is still married to their spouse and is “practicing what they preach” just blows them away. Most of these kids have never had good role models in their lives. Statistics tell us that 8 out of every 10 kids will reoffend, and very often they’re just repeating the patterns of their parents.

JY: Tell me about some of the special events you guys have held in the past.
RR: Well, it has been something as simple as a movie night with popcorn and soda, a barbeque, and we have done some big stuff too. Like this one time, we brought in a Dolphins player and his Hummer. Another time, we brought in a basketball team and had a slam-dunk contest. The kids went crazy! But, all of these things are done with the gospel as the central focus. The athlete may be what attracts them to the event, but sharing Jesus is the reason behind why we do what we do.

JY: Can you share the one story from being involved in this Life that has impacted you the most?
RR: There was a boy who came through Thompson Academy, which is another one of the facilities we minister in. Immediately when I saw him, I could tell that something was different. It turned out that he had some questions about his gender and his sexuality, and his parents didn’t want him because of that. We had a married couple who would come into the facility every week and teach a Bible study. This couple ended up really falling in love with this young man. Within two months they became licensed foster parents and actually got custody of him. After he was released, he lived with them for several months. They treated him like a son. They helped him get a job, a bank account, a car and he spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. It was incredible to see him go from a place of hopelessness in jail, with nothing and nobody, into a home where he was loved by a family.

JY: What’s your favorite part of doing this Life ?
RR: I love going in and sharing Christ with a kid who may have never heard about Him before. So often we are giving them the real truth for the very first time, and it’s awesome to watch the lights come on when they hear about the hope and love that Jesus has to offer.

JY: If someone has a heart for this Life and wants to get involved, what can they do?
RR: We are always looking for good volunteers to go into the facilities, and there are other ways to be involved as well. Bibles are a huge need, as we give each kid who gets saved through our Life an engraved Bible. People can donate new clothes, shoes, socks, underwear, basketballs, footballs and other items. Restaurants or organizations can donate food and drinks that we can bring in for an outreach.
I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to call or email me.

JY: Anything further that you would like to share?
RR: I’ve never been to jail, and don’t have a past in drugs, alcohol or crime. I’m not your typical jail minister. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use me. If you’re one who says “what do I have to offer” when it comes to Life, the answer is simply JESUS!
Regardless of your testimony or your qualifications, Jesus wants to use you.

Are 18 or younger and incarcerated or is your child? If so, please email Pastor Reuben, who can be reached at: [email protected] or by calling 954-977-9673.

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