“I was in prison and you came to visit me.” — Matthew 25:36
Billy Holman is an open book. Even though some of the chapters in his life are pretty dark — addiction, broken relationships, prison time — he knows that breaking his silence can lead others on the path to healing, forgiveness and eternal life with Christ.
His tale begins in Sisseton, South Dakota, where he was born and raised. He later moved to Wahpeton, North Dakota, where his dad attended college, and eventually landed in Breckenridge as a teenager. His family lived there until the Red River flood of 1997 forced them to settle in Fergus Falls.
“That’s when I started to get in trouble,” Billy said. “I ended up in jail several times — falling into a cycle of getting out, going back and getting out again. Finally, the last time I had gotten in trouble was in Fargo, and I had some charges pending in Fergus. So they transferred me back to Fergus and I ended up with a second-degree [drug] sales charge and assault with a deadly weapon charge. I was in county [jail] for almost two years from 2005 to 2007.”
While Billy was in the Otter Tail County Jail, he went through the REC program twice. REC, which stands for Residents Encounter Christ, is a two-day retreat for jail or prison residents that is designed to give them a chance to learn about Christ and how he can change their lives. Currently, Central Minnesota REC serves the Benton, Douglas, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail and Stearns county jails and the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
“That’s where I decided that I was going to change my life. Seeing that people cared about me was a big factor in it. Growing up, I didn’t have that. So, to have people coming in and taking their time away from their own families to spend the weekend with us in jail was just something new to me,” he recalled.
“The man that sat with me at that very first REC was probably the most impactful thing that I had in my life. Just the way he connected with me and showed love, and showed me that I was worth it. That’s probably my most profound moment,” he said.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
After his sentencing in Otter Tail County, Billy was sent to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud and then to MCF Stillwater, where he participated in a wellness treatment program. Once he was released from prison, he entered a halfway house back in Fergus Falls. Eventually, he moved in with a friend who had been sober for quite a while.
If it wasn’t for the REC program, I wouldn’t have these beautiful kids, this beautiful family.
Billy feels like he was one of the “lucky ones” who was able to stay clean, get a job and secure a place to live. He was surprised — and pleased — when the Otter Tail County Jail was hosting a REC weekend and they invited him to come back as a witness speaker. It’s also when he met his wife, Jane.
Jane, who works for the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department, wanted to become involved with the REC program but didn’t feel comfortable doing it in her home county. So she traveled with a friend to the REC in Otter Tail.
“And it’s all history from there,” Billy said.
Turn ahead a few pages in his story: Billy now has a job he loves at North Central Bus and Equipment, and he and Jane live in Little Falls with their three daughters: Sydney, 7; Emmalin, 6; and Hannah, 2.
Billy also has a daughter from a previous marriage, but because of his history he isn’t able to have contact with her. The family has a picture of her in their home, and the girls all know they have an older sister that they one day hope to meet.
“It’s a painful reminder,” he said, “but it reminds me that now I have a better way to live. I hope to connect with her someday and let her see who I am now.”
Together, Jane and Billy volunteer for RECs around central Minnesota, sharing their story and encouraging others to encounter the Lord. Jane said it was always something she had dreamed of — to minister to others with her husband.
“I think what I can do is to show people where I’ve come from and to show that you can recover and you can do good things in life and you can have great things again,”
Billy said. “I’m walking proof that I was at my lowest using meth and all kinds of drugs and I wasn’t a very nice person. And to come to where I am today — I have a very good job, I have a beautiful family, I’m able to contribute to society and give back by going to these jails and showing them that, ‘Hey, I was in your same spot, and look where I’m at today.’”
And there are more pages to fill. In November, Billy received the sacrament of confirmation and entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. The family attends Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Little Falls.
“Billy always said that he never was going to become Catholic so I never pushed it,” said Jane, who was raised Catholic. “And then, when he did decide to do it, my heart just cried tears of happiness.
He had come to church with us many times, but now that the girls can see him participating and going to Communion it is so special.”
Billy was recently elected to the REC board of directors, and he hopes to give back to those who helped him in his greatest time of need.
“The people giving up their time and their energy to come and show us that we’re loved and that we’re not forgotten was a big thing for me. And that’s why I joined the REC program. I want to give back. For me, to keep what I have, I have to give it away. And for me to do that means volunteering and doing the same things that they did for me when I was incarcerated. If it wasn’t for the REC program, I wouldn’t have these beautiful kids, this beautiful family,” Billy said.
“Through working with the REC board, I hope to encourage the public to be more open and to help people who are suffering from addictions and other things that bring them to jails and institutions. I would tell them to be more open and give more love to them because that’s what they need more than anything.”
Residents Encounter Christ (REC) is a two-day retreat based on the Paschal Mystery — the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Participants experience the message of Christ through participation in music, discussions, talks, prayer, Scripture, liturgy and celebration.
EACH OF THE THREE PARTS OF THE RETREAT HAS A CENTRAL THEME:
- “Die Day” centers on the death of Jesus Christ.
- “Rise Day” is a joyous celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- “Go Day” explores the continuous call to spread the Good News.
Retreat team positions are open to adults (21 or older) who have participated in TEC, Koinonia, or Cursillo. Individuals who participated in REC while incarcerated are also invited to apply. The team is predominantly staffed by Catholics; however non-Catholics are welcomed.
REC STATISTICS FOR THE PAST FISCAL YEAR:
- Central Minnesota REC held a total of 13 retreats between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.
- There were 239 individuals who completed these weekend retreats.
- During the year, 159 individuals volunteered to work on these 13 retreats.
- Seven priests of the diocese served as spiritual directors on the REC weekends.
- The average weekend included 18 participants and 25 volunteers.
OTHER JAIL MINISTRY PROGRAMS THAT INCLUDE CM REC VOLUNTEERS:
- “Beyond REC” is done monthly at the prison in St. Cloud.
- “Catholicism 101” is done quarterly at the prison in Stillwater.
- “Let’s Talk” or “Your Choice” are weekly programs in the jails in St. Cloud, Foley, Alexandria, Little Falls, Litchfield and Milaca.
- AISLES is sponsored by Central MN Re-Entry Project for ex-offenders in the St. Cloud area.
- A rosary group meets twice a month at the prison in St. Cloud.
- REC volunteers are joined by other volunteers in the St. Cloud area so Mass can be celebrated weekly at the Stearns County Jail. Weekly Mass is also celebrated at the prison in St. Cloud.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT VOLUNTEERING, PLEASE VISIT WWW.CM-REC.ORG.