Donna Miller stands in her office located within the Life Fellowship Community Church in Bayou Gauche.
The walls of the office are covered with 1,158 wallet-sized head shot photographs. Alphabetized binders containing letters and information on those depicted in the photos line a book shelf, and a wooden shelf with mail slots contains hundreds of unopened letters that are all organized by name.
This is the office of the Humble Hearts Association, a prison ministry Miller began five years ago while still living in her native Huntington Beach, Calif.
“It started by writing one inmate in one prison and now I am in 39 states and 181 different prisons,” she said. A map of the United States tacked to the wall has a red star placed on it for every prison in which Humble Hearts has a prisoner who they communicate with.
Miller said the purpose of the organization is not only to provide life skills by distributing literature to prisoners, but to also give them hope and the feeling that they are still connected to the outside world.
Humble Hearts provides literature and coursework to prisoners including programs on bible study, anger management, parenting, introduction to financial strategies and introduction to coping with addiction.
“It says in Hebrews 13:3 don’t forget about the prisoners. Everybody has their calling in life and their purpose in life. My purpose in life is to make a difference and I want to be remembered for doing the best that I could to change the world,” Miller said.
Going from one prisoner to 1,158 in only five years has meant Miller has scaled back her work life considerably and focused more on the ministry. With a history of working as a human resource assistant for a large restaurant chain, it is easy to see how Miller’s organizational work skills have translated into running a tight organization.
But when Miller first moved to Bayou Gauche a little over two years ago to be closer to her husband’s father, she began working at the McDonald’s in Paradis. However, shortly after arriving in St. Charles Parish things began falling in place so Miller could pursue her ministry full-time. Her husband got a raise that was more than what she was making working a 40-hour week at McDonald’s.
“He said, ‘just go do what you do and make it big.’ So that is what I did,” Miller said. “Everything we do would not be possible without him.”
Although she still works on Saturdays at McDonald’s, the rest of her time is spent in her office at Life Fellowship Community Church, corresponding with prisoners, visiting inmates at the Nelson Coleman Correctional Facility and leading a community service program for non-violent offenders who help her out in addition to participating in some of the programs themselves.
Now that she is in Louisiana, Miller has her work cut out for her.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and Louisiana has the largest per capita prison population.
Miller said she did not know Louisiana was the world’s incarceration leader when she moved here.
“That is why I feel like I am here. When I found out we have the highest percent of prisoners in the world, I was like ‘oh my gosh’ God just placed me right where I am supposed to be,” she said.
Pastor Paul Burke has been with Life Fellowship Community Church for the past decade. Shortly after Miller moved into the community he offered her the office space for Humble Hearts.
“Donna came here with a real passion for her ministry and we had some space. I think the most impressive thing about Donna is that long before she had any support she had a passion and she went after it,” he said.
Burke said he understands not all congregations would be as accepting of a prison ministry because of the stigma attached to criminals, but he said the church has embraced Humble Hearts.
“I think a lot of people know someone in a similar situation. These are church members’ family members. These are real people that have real lives,” he said.
Miller said although the people she is trying to help have made mistakes and hurt others, it does not mean they are not worthy of redemption.
“I understand the victims and I feel very bad about that, but these people are going to be getting out again. If we don’t reach them while they are in there, they are going to continue to do the same things they did to get in there,” she said. “If I reach one of them out of 100, then we can make a difference.
“People frown on a prison ministry, but it is about life skills. Maybe if we can provide them with life skills, they won’t make the same mistake again.”
Her hope is that she will get more people interested in helping out with the ministry.
“If Christians really want to do something they can log onto our Facebook page and say ‘I will write this person,’” Miller said.
For now, Miller’s only help is community service workers and volunteers, but with Humble Hearts just being granted non-profit status earlier this year, it seems that Miller is poised to grow the ministry even further and perhaps even add paid staff.
“One day I’d like to have a counselor here because a lot of people are getting out and they actually have no outlet. I feel so sorry for them because they lost everything,” Miller said.
As part of a fundraising effort, Miller is starting to apply for grants and is gearing up to make presentations at other local churches with the hope their congregations will join in the ministry.
“That is my passion. Some people’s passion is helping the elderly, some people’s passion is helping the kids. But if there was nobody to help the inmate, society would maybe get worse,” she said.
If you would like to get involved with Humble Hearts by volunteering or inviting Miller to your church to speak, she be reached at (714) 348-1307 or by mail at P.O. Box 1475, Paradis, LA 70080.
To find out more about Humble Hearts view the video below.
|Miller stands in front of one wall of her office that is covered with the photos of prisoners who correspond with Humble Hearts Association.|