Woman giving gift of God at Southern State
Lynne Farrow, 65, volunteers her time to minister to inmates at Southern State Correctional Facility
By Joyce Vanaman
Maurice River Township –
When people ask Lynne Farrow why a nice 65-year-old grandmother wants to spend so much time in prison, she recalls the words of Jesus to his followers: “I was in prison and you visited me.”
For about 20 years, Farrow has been visiting Southern State Correctional Facility to assist the chaplains as she teaches and counsels. While living in Pitman in 1981, Farrow and her son, Bill, a Baptist minister in Valley Forge, PA, started Wings of Eagles Ministries, Inc. to serve prisoners, wives, and former convicts.
Although she has had to cut down somewhat on her prison minister and no longer goes to Bayside State Prison or the former Trenton State Prison, Farrow has a deep commitment to Southern State, where she devotes two days a week to teaching and counseling inmates one on one and assisting the chaplains.
Farrow also spends at least 20 hours counseling wives of inmates, usually at a southern New Jersey diner, an informal setting where they can feel comfortable, she said.
Making a difference in people’s lives is often cited as a lofty goal by those performing a service, but at Southern State, it’s the inmates in her “Healing for Damaged Emotions” class that tell what a real difference she made in their lives.
“Most men here do not wake up one day and say they want to be a murderer or an armed robber,” said Richard Guiddy, 34, who is serving time for armed robbery. “I came from an environment of abuse, alcohol and violence. I’ve learned that to live a productive life, I had to change.
“When I had no belief system, Mrs. Farrow has given me a firm foundation based on the Bible. She’s been a surrogate mother.”
Guiddy added: “She’s familiar with the issues we deal with as prisoners and is able to see us in a different light. She sees us as men, not as armed robbers or murderers.”
Inmate Matthew Roncone, 40, said: “We believe that transformation in a man’s life takes place through the study of God’s words and applying them to daily living. What the class has done is to help me identify the areas in my life that need healing. Being incarcerated, “I’ve learned to depend on God.
“We come to prison because something is terribly wrong in our lives,” Roncone added. “We come as broken men. We can leave in the same shape, worse or better. Through her counseling, Mrs. Farrow has equipped us to return to be a productive member of society capable of making a positive impact.”
Christopher Palais, 31, who was convicted of second-degree robbery, said he grew up in a loving household, but was filled with anger, self-pity and jealousy.
“Through Mrs. Farrow, the class and the Bible, things have turned around 180 degrees. I’ve learned to forgive myself and others.”
“The way Mrs. Farrow teaches, you can tell she’s real, not a phony,” said Ron Jones, 40. “I owe her a debt of gratitude and will carry that through my life.”
One of the things that Farrow emphasizes is not blaming others, but taking responsibility for yourself.
Farrow has had some tough times in her life as well.
For 20 years, she and her late husband, who had an alcohol problem, operated a camera shop in Pitman.
“When my son and I started the Wings of Eagles Prison Ministries, some of the people could handle our ministry as long as we did our work in the prisons, but objected to our bringing the former convicts to Pitman,” she related.
Farrow said that she eventually lost her home and was homeless for about eight months, living in a camper in the back yard of a Christian couple in Glassboro. She also lost her possessions when a trailer box in which they were stored was firebombed.
“Those experiences changed my life to make me more willing to accept God’s plan for my life,” Farrow said.
Farrow achieved many firsts in her prison work, including being the first woman volunteer entrusted with ministering in the lockup units at New Jersey State Prison (the former Trenton State Prison).
In recognition of her service at Southern State Correctional Facility, Farrow recently received the State Department of Corrections Lifetime Service Award. Farrow said the support of the staff and officers ahs been great – that she has found it the most comfortable prison in which to do her volunteer work.
Through Wings of Eagles, Farrow has provided countless Bibles to prisons as well as holiday cards. A special financial gift from a supporting church enabled Wings of Eagles to donate six new microphones to Southern State.
Over the summer, Farrow was asked if Wings of Eagles would furnish a special adolescent visit room opening there in conjunction with the prison’s parenting program. With the assistance of women from one of her Bible study groups, the group provided everything from rugs and rocking chairs to toys and a TV. Farrow said that there were enough books to fill tow pick-up trucks.
“Everyone involved had a great time with this fun project,” she said.
Farrow’s service is not confined just to prisons. A resident of Malaga Camp in Newfield, Gloucester County, and a neighbor of the Rev. Paul Pedrick, former chaplain at Bayside State Prison who was instrumental in her prison ministry, Farrow serves as secretary of the West Jersey Grove Association, the governing body of Malaga Camp. Farrow also teaches a women’s Bible study there and at the Valley forge Baptist Church, where her son is the minister, and she is active in the Faith Fellowship in Franklinville, Gloucester County.
Besides her son, Farrow has a daughter and three grandchildren.