2/3/2012 - Judson College Chapel Service: Former inmate now an advocate for children
She's been described as looking like a “sweet grandmother,” so it's shocking to hear Mary Kay Beard talk about having been on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
Beard made her seventh visit to Judson College on Jan. 31 to speak to students, faculty and staff in Judson's weekly chapel service, and she remained to visit with Dr. John Weber's criminal justice students that afternoon.
"My life story is a good example of how not to do it," she said with a smile. Raised in Missouri, Beard never missed church as a child and teenager. But her life took a new turn when she agreed to a blind date. She married less than two weeks later not knowing that her new husband, an entertainment promoter, was an ex-con, a gambler and a bank robber. Soon they began a life of crime together.
"I had nice things and plenty of money," Beard said. "But as the Bible says, 'we deceive ourselves.' I knew what I was doing was wrong."
Later her husband abandoned her and Beard continued a life of lawlessness. After her arrest, Beard faced the possibility of spending the rest of her life in jail. "I was wanted in four states and had 35 warrants," she said.
Since "Alabama" was first in the alphabet, she was remanded to the Jefferson County jail in Birmingham pending trial. Through the influence of a group of Christians who taught Sunday School in the jail, Beard gave her life to Christ. She was sentenced to 21 years in prison and sent to the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Later Beard moved to a half-way house in Auburn where she took courses and worked at Auburn University. More than 80 people wrote the parole board on her behalf and she was released after serving five and a half years.
went to work for Prison Fellowship in 1982 and founded the Angel Tree
program the same year--a ministry that provides gifts for children of
inmates at Christmas.
Angel Tree is now active in all 50 states and 45 countries. Beard noted
that more than nine million children have been touched through this
Beard explained to students that the children of inmates are innocent victims. Sometimes they're physically or verbally abused by their parents, she said, and sometimes by society. "In one Christian academy, they called the mother in after her husband was sent to prison," Beard said. "Officials said that her two children couldn’t attend the academy anymore since they'd be a bad influence. How heartbreaking that these children were hounded out rather than embraced and encouraged."
Beard's "Encourager Ministries" in Birmingham plans a conference at the First Baptist Church in Gardendale in July to offer instruction and encouragement to the children of inmates. She appealed to Judson students to volunteer to help with this project. “Children of inmates are ‘the least of these’ that Jesus told us to serve in the gospel of Matthew,” she said.
More information about Beard and her ministries is available at www.marykaybeard.com.