Forgiven Felons: Thank God for Second Chances (Documentary Review)

John FarrellBy John Farrell6 Minutes

The United States has more incarcerated people in correctional facilities than any other developed country with over two million prisoners.

When inmates are released from prison many of them are taken to half-way houses as they assimilate back into the real world. Unfortunately, many of these transitional homes are rife with drugs, alcohol, guns, violence, and prostitution. Many times, they’re no better than the prisons they just left.

Because of this, released felons often find themselves back behind prison walls within a couple of years. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67 percent of prisoners return to prison within three years of their release. The percentage jumps to 76 percent after five years and to 83 percent after nine years.

Recidivism – the repeated or habitual relapse into criminal behavior—is definitely an issue in the U.S. However, places like the Forgiven Felons house are working to combat the growing rate of recidivism.

Forgiven Felons, located in North Dallas, is a transitional house unlike your normal half-way houses where drugs and crime often run rampant. The ministry was founded by Jay Dan Gumm, who himself is a forgiven felon. Gumm was an alcoholic who spent time in prison with five DWIs. On September 18, 2003, he was sent to solitary confinement for eight days. It was during that time that he reached out to God through prayer.

Gumm asked God to not release him from prison until God knew he was ready to never come back. God told him that He was going to put this dream in his heart and as long as he pursued this dream he would never come back to prison in this same capacity. That dream was to one day have a transitional house ministry.

Gumm was released from prison on April 18, 2006, and two days he later reconnected with Jessamy, who he eventually married. The two of them opened the ministry in 2007 and opened the ministry’s first duplex was built in 2012. Each duplex features three bedrooms and two bathrooms on each side.

Forgiven Felons is the focus of a three-part documentary series of the same name. Steve Borden, or Sting as he’s known to wrestling fans, hosts and narrates the show.

The series follows the lives of Gumm and six of the Forgiven Felons residents through interviews in which viewers learn about each person’s past lives and how this untraditional transitional home has helped them get back up on their feet.

Each man who moves into the Forgiven Felons house upon his release from prison receives hygiene products, clothing, bus pass, food, and a room, which comes equipped with a bed, dresser, and nightstand. There is also a phone, cable TV, and computer in the living room for all residents to use. Along with the accommodations and necessities are some basic stipulations: 11 p.m. curfews, chores, random drug and alcohol tests, and mandatory activities.

What sets Forgiven Felons apart from most other transitional homes are those stipulations. All residents are required to attend a weekly Bible study, church, recovery class, men’s breakfast, and a monthly Saturday lunch. Beyond that, there is very little oversight and residents are expected to be self-reliant and work toward the goal of re-establishing themselves into society with the support of each other.

The mission of Forgiven Felons is “Helping people with a Past realize their Future.” According to Gumm, Forgiven Felons allows them “to focus on helping men that are ready for a change in the way they live. Combing the practical and spiritual to produce Godly men that are better fathers, husbands, leaders, and businessmen. We believe that in doing this, we will make a huge dent in the recidivism rate.”

Since 2012, more than 100 men have transitioned back into society through Forgiven Felons, which has an amazing recidivism rate of 8 percent, 72 percent below the national average. Although they receive 100 applications a month, Forgiven Felons currently can only house up to ten residents at a time.

What makes Forgiven Felons so successful are the six principles its ministry is based on:

F – Forgive

E – Educate

L – Love

O – Overcome

N – New Life

S – Serve

If you’re looking for a show that will capture your heart and prove that even the most hardened criminals can find God and become obedient servants, you won’t be disappointed with “Forgiven Felons.” Fortunately, the eight men in the documentary, in addition to the countless others who have passed through Forgiven Felons, all found God and were given a second chance.

Thank God for second chances!