From the shackles of sin to the heart of prison ministry
Written by Haley Earley, manager of donor offers at The Salvation Army Northern Division
(Video) – Rick Marasco was driving through town one day, and this time when he saw people on the corner with their cardboard box signs, he prayed, “God, what do you want me to do?”
“My son, give to The Salvation Army,” was the response he heard.
With that, Rick sent a letter to The Salvation Army asking how he could participate in our ministry. Katie Castillo, Donor Relations Associate at The Salvation Army, emailed Rick and went right to work on learning more about his interests in order to connect him with the best volunteer opportunity.
“Now I’m plugged in in all kinds of ways,” said Rick, who is now an integral volunteer within The Salvation Army’s prison ministry team.
Twice a month, Rick makes 30 uplifting cards for The Salvation Army to give to prisoners across Minnesota. He’s also working as a mentor for prisoners re-entering society (related story). He’s had one mentee so far, and even when the mentee relapsed, Rick has remained confident in the work he is doing.
Roots in prison ministry
He recalls a particularly powerful moment at the retreat involving a prisoner we’ll call “Susan.” As the weekend went on, Rick and Carol gained Susan’s trust.
As the retreat came to a close, Rick and Carol gifted coffee mugs to all the prisoners. But Susan was hesitant to receive one. She stood back as the others ran toward their shiny gifts as though it were Christmas morning.
Suddenly, Susan fell to the floor, overcome with emotion. A friend brought her the last mug, which Susan took and “held as if it was life itself,” Rick said.
Rick later learned that Susan’s husband had abused her, and that he used to beat her with coffee mugs.
“Now I have one that means love,” Susan shared through tears.
Roughly 30 years later, and Rick still cries as he remembers Susan. “It’s those kind of things that last forever,” he said.
As time went on, Carol saw Susan at other prison functions, and each time, Susan brought the mug with her.
Jesus had allowed Rick and Carol to change the meaning of coffee mugs in her life.
Today when Rick meets with mentees, he shares his testimony in hopes that God will work through it. He’s seen hearts softened by the honesty of his past.
Rick pointed across his yard, “You see that tree? It got knocked down in a storm, yet it was still the first to bloom this spring.”
It’s a symbol he resonates with personally. Rick has been that tree, blown by the wind and knocked to the ground. It’s only in the second half of his life that he’s been able to bloom despite the storms.
Before Rick found God, he was quick to seek happiness in romantic relationships. He’d been married twice, even leaving his second wife to live with a woman he’d known for only two weeks.
Yet this new woman brought Rick along with her to church, and there God spoke to him. He hadn’t been in God’s house for over 20 years. It took just 30 seconds to change his life.
The pastor made a simple request: turn over the bulletin and draw what you’re feeling. Rick was overcome with emotion and darkness, and when he felt ready to flee the church, God came in with a peace he had never known.
“You belong here.”
God addressed something deep inside Rick – a pain, a longing, and finally a sense of belonging.
In that moment, Rick knew God was with him. He began to change his ways: “I knew Jesus was alive, I knew He had come into my heart. I knew I was His child. I was born again.”
Though the relationship with the woman didn’t last, Rick has been walking with God ever since.
Freedom in Christ
Rick went on to marry Carol, the secretary of his church. They’ve been married 33 years now.
“You talk about redemption, you talk about transformation – it’s an amazing story,” he said of his relationship with Carol.
It’s that redemption that Rick desires for each of the prisoners he interacts with. He shares his story confidently, through tears as God’s grace continues to overwhelm him to this day.
Rick and Carol are compelled to share the grace and glory of God through their donations, volunteerism, and advocacy throughout our community. That’s why Rick writes to his friends, shares his story of God using him, and boldly asks that they get involved with The Salvation Army through a monetary gift or by volunteering.
Before Rick and Carol husband and wife, they were friends and prayer partners. It was during one of their prayers together that God shared the song below with Rick, and he then wrote it down and preformed it with Carol. May the words of this song be a reminder of God’s love for you.