HOUSTON—Prison isn’t a place where people expect to find freedom, but that’s where it happened for Lovinah Igbani.
“In 2010, when my baby was three weeks old, I was charged with manufacturing with the intent to deliver hydrocodone,” Igbani said. “I was sentenced to eight years. My husband kept the girls for about 10 months and after that, he sent the baby to a cousin, … and my oldest daughter, he sent to live with a friend of hers.”
In prison, Igbani dedicated her life to Christ.
“I began to read my Bible for the first time. This relationship I allowed Christ to begin with me is something I never experienced,” she said. “I had been set free.”
Challenges adjusting to life outside of prison
After four years, Igbani was granted parole, but the thought of getting out of prison terrified her. She knew she would encounter barriers in trying to find a job with a felony in her background, and she was worried about maintaining her newfound faith.
“I was … afraid that I wouldn’t be able to experience the Holy Spirit in the same way” outside of prison, she said.
After her release, Igbani’s sister took her to a Bible study through Free Indeed Church International. In time, she joined the church and signed up to participate in its re-entry ministry for ex-offenders.
Meanwhile, she struggled to find a job. After she finished her first day at one job, her employer let her know the company didn’t want her to come back, because they discovered she had a felony record. Eventually, she found a job at the Houston Aquarium.
“After taking several discipleship classes (with Free Indeed Ministries), I was asked if I’d like to go into prison with them” to minister, she said. “Not long after, I started volunteering as coordinator of the Free Indeed re-entry ministry.”
Helping ex-offender re-enter free society
Free Indeed Ministries, which helps ex-offenders re-enter society after a prison sentence, receives financial support through the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission community care program.
“Our public policy priority on criminal justice reform and re-entry is supporting efforts that help ex-offenders back into society through the development and expansion of re-entry programs, including access to basic safety-net service for those who have completed their sentence,” said Kathryn Freeman, director public policy for the CLC.
Igbani emphasized the importance of these services.
“A lot of times, when people have been incarcerated for a long time, they get stuck,”
Igbani’s role in the ministry includes offering discipleship, giving advice, responding to inmate letters and teaching job-readiness classes.
While Igbani volunteers at Free Indeed, she also maintains her job and is working towards an associate’s degree at a community college. She eventually plans to complete her master’s degree in social work, so she can help people overcome drug addictions.
“I know I’m in the right field,” she said. “I go and try to help them and give them hope, but I come out blessed beyond measure in a way that I can’t even describe.”
Every time she enters a prison to minister to offenders, she noted, “I say, ‘This was the best weekend of my life.’”