A life filled with service is a life filled with love 

Lisa Holmes has been a pillar of support for her community for decades, ministering to youth and adults throughout Alabama’s Department of Corrections. (Lisa Holmes)

“Hurt people, hurt people” is a motto that Lisa Holmes has lived by her entire life. Holmes knew from a young age that she was called by a Higher Power to minister to others and ease life’s heavy burdens in any way that she could. Beginning when she was a child, Holmes remembers being relentlessly bullied at school, the place that should have been her respite from a turbulent home life. Those experiences and memories gave her the inspiration she needed to get involved in the lives of the youth around her, demonstrate a mother’s love and give the support that she deserved, but never received.

Said Holmes, “My passion is that no child has to go through that alone. Through recovery, everyone comes to know no matter what their life was that God has never given up on them. That they are loved more than they will ever know.”

The National Traumatic Child Stress Network reports that when children are victims of bullying during adolescence, it can lead to mental health problems, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse. Knowing these possible outcomes, Holmes and her husband of 42 years, Mark, decided to stretch their legs and begin a ministry for incarcerated youth.

Lisa Holmes said, “Children are my passion. A wonderful elderly pastor once said, ‘My prayer is to reach these kids with love, kindness and (for them) to have a relationship with Jesus (and) their lives forever changed so that we will no longer need prisons.’” That seed planted by an old, wise pastor, led The Holmeses to begin their journey of attempting to repair broken youth. Slowly, they got involved in a few smaller facilities such as Chalkville Girls Center, J. Walter Wood Residential Treatment Facility and VACCA campuses in Birmingham and Autauga. All housed children and juveniles ranging in age from 12 to 17 – juveniles convicted of violent and non-violent crimes they had been involved in or even committed personally.

As the ministry grew and new facilities invited the Holmeses in, a significant portion of time was spent on the traveling. They also had two young boys to raise at home. Concerned about the negative impact their ministry could potentially have on their children, Lisa Holmes recalled a weight lifted, saying, “I asked our oldest son one time how he and his brother felt about us doing this ministry and being away from home. He said, ‘Mom, we have you all the time. They don’t.’” Those words were the confirmation and push that the Holmeses needed to keep their ministry going. The years trudged on, as did Lisa Holmes’ desire to grow and reach farther to spread the seeds of hope to more incarcerated individuals.

“I was blessed to be part of a team that got to go in for a three-day weekend at Julia Tutwiler women’s prison,” she remembered. “There I saw the worst of humanity and the best of God.”

Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is Alabama’s oldest and only correctional facility for women. In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court found that Tutwiler Prison had overcrowding issues and conditions so ghastly, that they violated the U.S. Constitution; in 2014 the U.S. Department of Justice released findings of a report, which read, “We find that the State of Alabama violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution by failing to protect women prisoners at Tutwiler from harm due to sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff. Tutwiler has a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse and harassment. The women at Tutwiler universally fear for their safety. They live in a sexualized environment with repeated and open sexual behavior.”

After continuing their work with juveniles, Lisa Holmes said she knew there was a gap between juveniles and adults in the prison system – a time to reach them after their release from a juvenile facility, but before their crimes got them cold, hard, prison time. Her target was her local county jail. “I was privileged to take the recovery program to the Cullman (County Detention) Center to both men and women for several years before COVID shutdown.”

Throughout her ministries and time spent with offenders and individuals in juvenile and adult detention centers across the state, her relationship with God and her husband, Mark, were both her driving force and an obstacle at times. She said of her relationship with God, “The one thing I share constantly is I cannot do any of this first without it being directed from God and keeping God at the center.” On her marriage, she said, “We love to share with couples in recovery that this December we will be married 42 years. That it is not always easy. There have been times when it would have been easy to give up, but we chose to fight for our marriage not against each other. There is a plaque that hangs on our family picture wall that says, ‘We decided on forever.’”

For the past seven years, Mark and Lisa Holmes have continued to minister to the community with their program, C.O.R., or Celebrate Our Recovery, at their home church, Holly Pond United Methodist Church. Lisa Hollmes describes C.O.R. as a “life plan” and “so much more than a 12-step program.” Meeting every Tuesday evening at 6 p.m., she and other church members prepare a warm meal and provide childcare to ensure local community members can receive support that may be needed while navigating life’s turbulent waters.

The Holmeses ministered to youth and adults for decades, learning along the way about life and love. Lisa Holmes shared, “I have learned two things from my years and different ministries I have been blessed to be part of. First, there is no such thing as a perfect family. All families deal with issues of some sort; just as there was only one perfect person and that was Jesus. None of the rest of us are perfect, we all have a hurt, habit or hang-up we need to deal with. The second thing I have learned is everyone, whether they say it out loud or not, from the hardest person to the gentlest person, everyone wants to feel loved.”

Lisa Holmes may never fully realize the impact her life has made on others. She said there was more of an impact on her as she was carrying out her ministry. “With God at the center of my life, my husband and family by my side….my cup runneth over. Psalms 23:5”

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