Sherri Richards, Published October 26 2012
Mom of a murderer: Carol Kent shares story of finding forgiveness in midst of ‘new normal’
What: Jail Chaplains Dessert Social and Fundraiser, featuring Carol Kent
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, program at 7 p.m.
Where: Holiday Inn, Fargo
Info: $15 per person. (701) 364-0067
FARGO – Carol Kent was finally in her own bed, back in Michigan after another trip, this time to St. Louis. Kent made her living as a speaker, sharing her Christian faith with other women and encouraging them to be women of influence.
Then at 12:35 a.m., the phone rang. It was a call that would change her life.
Her son, Jason, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, had shot and killed another man, his wife’s ex-husband.
“I had never been in shock before,” Kent said in a phone interview recently, remembering that night in October 1999. “I tried to get out of bed, and my legs wouldn’t hold my weight. Something had happened that had forever changed our lives.”
Kent will be the featured speaker at a fundraiser Tuesday for Jail Chaplains, a nonprofit organization that ministers to inmates of the Cass County Jail.
“I’m going to talk about the hope-filled choices every one of us needs to make when the life we thought we would have is going to turn out different than we expected,” Kent says.
There are many reasons we may need to find a “new normal,” she says. An accident could cause a severe disability. A baby may be born with lifelong special needs. A loved one could be arrested.
“I really believe to some degree or another every one of us can identify with living in a new kind of normal because we live in an imperfect world,” she says.
Kent says it was important that she and her husband chose life by facing their neighbors and church family rather than an emotional death.
She chose to trust, and she chose vulnerability by sharing their journey with a wider circle of people. Besides speaking, Kent has written three books about their journey since the arrest.
Kent says she also chose to find gratitude, joy and forgiveness – all virtues needed when living in that new normal.
Kent says Jason, her only child, had become obsessed that his wife’s ex-husband would harm his stepdaughters during a visitation. It took 2½ years and seven postponements of Jason’s trial before he was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole, she says. He was 25 years old at the time of his crime.
Carol Kent says Jason has used his current circumstances to help others, by leading prayer groups and Financial Peace University courses in prison.
“I realize my son’s life is not being wasted. It’s very purposeful because he’s leading, mentoring and counseling other men,” she says.
That’s one reason she appreciates the ministry of Jail Chaplains here in Cass County.
“For many inmates, the chaplaincy program is where they find hope,” Kent says. “They give some of these inmates their very first view of what a godly man looks like, what could it look like if I became a better man and incorporate faith-filled biblical principles in my life.”
This year’s dessert social marks a year of transition for Jail Chaplains. Gerri Leach, who worked for the Salvation Army for 5½ years, has been named executive director elect. She succeeds the Rev. Curt Frankhauser, who was appointed volunteer chaplain 33 years ago and built the ministry.
Former North Dakota first lady Nancy Schafer was recently elected chairwoman of the Jail Chaplains board.
Schafer first got involved about three years ago, at a time when she was looking for an opportunity that was a service to God. She says she was moved and impressed by the ministry.
She says Tuesday’s event not only raises money for group’s work but raises public awareness.
“So few people understand, even think about the Cass County Jail,” Schafer says. “People come in so broken, nowhere to turn. When they leave they have someone to rely on, God and the people serving in chaplaincy, to show them a new way rather than going down the same old way of life.”
Kent works to make sure her experiences show others a new way as well.
She hopes to use what has happened to her family to help people “trapped in the embarrassment of false shame,” and to encourage people to be more authentic.
“I feel that out of sharing from the depths of my own pain and hurt and disappointments, God has allowed me to be able to connect with people who might have never connected with me if my life had been more ideal … as it was before the arrest,” she says.
About Jail Chaplains
Jail Chaplains became a nonprofit in 2006. It has a full-time chaplain at the jail, Mike Sonju, as well as about two dozen volunteers, says Gerri Leach, executive director elect. Its programs include:
- Chaplain visitations and individual mentoring
- Weekly worship service
- Bible studies
- Work release program
- Personal growth courses, such as Celebrate Recovery, Crown Financial, Moms in Touch, Dads in Touch and anger management