Ministry founder delivers message of hope to Lexington women’s prison
For information about the Angel Tree program, visit http://www.angeltree.org.
The founder of an international prison fellowship ministry that has touched the lives of literally millions of children delivered a message of hope Monday at the North Piedmont Correctional Center for Women in Lexington.
Mary Kay Beard, who spent more than five years in an Alabama prison during the late 1970s, told the group of more than two dozen inmates that it’s never too late to find salvation and forgiveness.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you have been or what you have done,” she told the crowd of incarcerated women. “If you are here and you would like for God to come into your heart, he will come, but only on the condition of absolute surrender.”
Beard, who is based in Birmingham, Ala., travels about 40 weeks out of the year, going from one church and prison to the next spreading her message of hope. She is employed by Prison Fellowship, a nonprofit, Christian-based ministry to prisoners.
“Children are always the first victim of any crime their parents commit,” Beard said.
The women laughed, cried and shook their heads in disbelief when Beard told the story of her life of crime and her amazing turnaround through Christ’s word. She went from one of America’s most wanted criminals to the founder of an international nonprofit organization that helps inmates reconnect with their children.
By the age of 27, Beard was wanted by both federal and state authorities and was the target of a Mafia hit. Beard and her former husband robbed several banks and were involved in numerous jewelry heists, including one that crossed paths with the Mafia, she said.
“According to the IRS, we stole somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 to $5 million,” Beard said.
By the time law enforcement agents caught up with Beard in 1972, she faced 11 federal indictments, along with four states filing more than 30 charges against her, ranging from grand larceny to armed robbery.
“I was told that I would get a minimum of 75 years in prison,” she said.
She was released after five and a half years, but during that time spent in a solitary confinement cell, she said she found her true calling to serve the Lord.
A few years later in 1981, Beard joined Prison Fellowship as an area director in Alabama. Her first responsibility in that role was to create a Christmas program of some kind.
That’s when the idea to help children of inmates receive Christmas gifts came to her. She said the idea was met by area churches with overwhelming results.
Now, more than 25 years later, more than seven million children worldwide have benefited from the program, known as Angel Tree.
Beard is the subject of the published biography “Rogue Angel,” which tells of her life of crime and redemption.
Rebecca Pinnix, an inmate at the correctional facility, sobbed as she talked about the love for her children and the drug addiction that drove a wedge between them.
She thanked Beard for the Angel Tree program, noting her children received Christmas gifts from the program.
“I just want to thank you for that,” Pinnix said. “I love my children, and it kills me inside that I can’t be with them, but your program has helped me stay a part of their life.”