A Graduation Surprise

     To date we have helped 64 individuals graduate from the TUMI program, all of whom began their journey in prison.  26 of these people have paroled from prison and have gone on to do amazing things.  Without disruption, its possible to complete the entire program in less than four years.  The modules test students both mentally and spiritually; graduating the program is no easy task.  Many factors can delay the education including prison transfers, lockdowns, and even being released from prison.  While Serving California offers scholarships that allow students who have completed at least one module within prison to continue their education outside of prison, it is not always feasible.  Parole restrictions and economic factors upon release can be prohibiting.  Last weekend we had the pleasure to surprise the latest TUMI graduate, Lamont Little, with a well earned graduation ceremony.  Those who closely follow us may recall Lamont’s story from one of our previous newsletter articles this year.

Lamont was convicted of a violent crime and spent several years in prison.  While in prison Lamont reaffirmed his faith in Jesus Christ and dedicated his life to serving Christ.  During his incarceration he was able to complete several TUMI modules before he was released in 2013.  Upon his release he found himself homeless in downtown San Diego.  Parole had placed strict sanctions on Lamont and his family had abandoned him due to his violent history.  Employment proved to be yet another challenge for the ex-convict who had just been released from prison.  Lamont had never felt more alone in his life.  Lamont cried out to Christ for help and his response was “Remember your first love.”  That startled Lamont.  He couldn’t believe that here he was, struggling and all alone, and God had reminded him that his first love was found in serving Christ. 

He used the tools that TUMI had equipped him with to preach on the streets of downtown San Diego to anyone who would listen.  He stood on the street corner and preached the Gospel in front of a hotel in the heart of downtown.  He shared his testimony and prayed with men and women who were lost or struggling just as he had been.  He fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, and found peace doing so.  One day the hotel manager offered Lamont a job as a maintenance man, which is where he remains working today.  Despite the conditions he faced, he continued his TUMI education at a satellite location in San Diego while continuing to preach to the homeless around him.  There he completed the remaining nine TUMI modules required to graduate under Rich Esselstrom, the director of TUMI San Diego.  Over time Lamont amassed his own homeless urban ministry.  He now ministers to 20 to 35 homeless people every Sunday, has a regular church gathering on Tuesday evenings, conducts two Bible studies a week, and feeds the homeless four times week.  No matter what happens, he does not leave any of his people behind.  If one of them is unable to make it, he takes his ministry to them.  Nothing has stopped Lamont from continuing his newfound cause.  Lamont is so dedicated to serving Christ that not even having been stabbed by a delusional man has stopped him from spreading the word. 

Unbeknown to him, a surprise graduation was being prepared for him by Serving California and Prison Fellowship.  Over 50 people gathered in downtown San Diego to surprise Lamont with a graduation ceremony.  Lamont, a US Marine Corps veteran, held back his tears as he saw all of the people who had come out to show their support for him once more.  Three other TUMI graduates were in attendance along with six other TUMI students.  They had made their way in from all over California to show their brother how much they support him.  TUMI students who are still incarcerated had pre-recorded messages and songs that were played during the ceremony.  The amount of love and support for Lamont was overwhelming.  It was truly amazing to witness the support system that these men and women had formed.

Lamont is a fighter and always has been, but now he is fighting for good.  He gives a lot of credit to his wife, who he says helps keep him focused on what is important.  He also gives credit to everyone who has supported him and helped him humble himself so that he could be equipped to do the work that he does.