On the day he turned 22, Mike Shank was convicted of trafficking cocaine and served three and a half years in prison.
A pardon from the governor in 2001 was the first of many steps that led Shank, now 53, to create a nonprofit that helps hundreds of offenders become more responsible citizens.
“Many inmates want to turn their lives around and maybe, someday, receive a pardon from the governor of North Carolina. At the end of the day, it is Christ’s pardon that we need for true freedom,” said Shank, a Cary man who founded Pardoned by Christ in 2005.
PBC volunteers help inmates and their families in several ways: They provide Bible studies, mentor services and other resources, including a transition home for men that was established in 2010.
Each month, more than 40 volunteers visit the Wake Correctional Center to minister to men who are nearing their release date from prison. They also visit juvenile offenders who are serving time in youth development centers.
This month, the group is focusing on raising money. It plans to establish another facility to offer more ex-offenders a second chance.
“I noticed that when guys got out of prison, most had nowhere to go that would help them get a fresh start,” said Shank, who works for Select Physical Therapy in Cary and has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Florida.
At transition homes, residents get help to find a job, and they can learn how to pay bills and pursue a positive life.
In return, they must help out with chores and follow the house rules.
Volunteer counselors work with the men on a plan to rebuild their lives.
“The blessings of this ministry come from the smiles when the residents get their first paychecks out of prison,” Shank said. “It helps build their self-esteem and get a fresh identity.”
Earl Harris, manager for the PBC transition home, has volunteered with the prison ministry for 15 years. Keeping the men in the transition home focused on Christ is at the center of the group’s mission.
“Greatest thing about Mike is his love for the Lord and how the Holy Spirit orders his steps,” Harris said. “Mike wants to see lives changed and to give back.”
The need for groups to give criminal offenders a second chance was highlighted in a 2010 report from the SafeStreet task force, led by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper.
When many prisoners return to communities, they lack the skills “to find jobs and stay out of trouble,” according to the statewide initiative. Many end up back in prison.
More than 101,250 people are in state prisons and another nearly 37,360 are on probation, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Ninety-three percent of the incarcerated people are male.
Those numbers help underscore the importance of finding ways to help ex-offenders become productive citizens.
“Everybody has done things wrong, some have to go to prison,” Shank said. “Everyone should be given a chance for forgiveness and a redemptive process.”