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In January 2017, I was still mourning the absence of Tim in my life. Graciously, God had moved my son Tom to begin speaking to me again. God always moved in the hearts of my children to keep at least one of them in my life. When one disappeared, another arrived again. Without explaining his earlier rejection of me, Tom shared the reason for his newest change of heart.

Tom was involved in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) at school, a federal program in high schools across the U.S. sponsored by the Armed Forces. Tom’s leadership role in JROTC emphasized respect, particularly towards parents. Feeling convicted, he reached out to me, hoping to mend our relationship.

Our renewed relationship was fragile, but I cherished it. Tom agreed to weekly phone calls again, filling me with joy. I always ended phone calls with my children by saying, “I love you.” In the past Tom would respond in kind. Now he said, “thank you,” instead. It hurt my heart to hear but didn’t change my own message, “I love you.”

Are you experiencing a strained relationship? Do you desire restoration and healing in those relationships? How are you working towards that?

One evening, as I ended a call with Tom, I overheard a conversation in the dayroom of Tubman, “Was your canteen order taken out of your account?” I turned to see Darla in the dayroom of Tubman.

“No, it wasn’t,” another woman answered.

“Mine wasn’t either,” Darla said, looking concerned.

Curious, I headed over to the account reader to check my own balance. Canteen orders were placed using a bubble sheet form. Just like taking a grade school test, women carefully filled in circles with a number 2 pencil indicating items and quantity desired. Every Sunday we turned these slips into the mailbox; the guards retrieved and delivered them to Shakopee’s canteen office. Tuesdays the money was taken from our account. Today was Tuesday.

My own account balance also remained unchanged, which couldn’t be a good sign. I heard whispers of concern from women standing around. Heading to work after lunch I asked women who lived in other units if they had the same issue. They did not. It was clear that Tubman was the only unit affected.

Inmates work in Shakopee’s canteen department, and one of them was a good friend. She returned from work that afternoon to inform us that the prison never received Tubman’s orders. This created quite a buzz as women sought to solve this problem. Sitting in the dayroom after work, we wondered, ‘Where were our completed order forms?’ We concluded they must still be at Tubman’s guard desk, the last step in the process left undone.

I heard whispers of concern from women standing around.

“I said ‘GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!’” he yelled at me, rising slightly out of his chair as he shouted.

We looked over at the desk, where an “off-brand” guard sat studying his fingernails. I’d never seen him before, a fill-in for our regular guards. Young and blond, he could have been good-looking had he not worn a scowl. Perhaps this was the reason our forms had not been turned in? With our regular staff gone, it was certainly possible the fill-ins didn’t know the routine.

“Should we ask that guard about it?” I suggested. Women shrugged, nervous. Summoning my courage, I stood and walked towards the guard desk, offering a tentative smile. Before I could say a word, in fact before I was halfway across the room, the guard suddenly looked up and noticed me. Spitting out a bitten off fingernail he leaned forward and said to me, “Get out of here! I don’t have time.”

Shocked, I stopped in my tracks, the smile sliding off my face. He was alone, doing nothing at all. I was certain this was a misunderstanding. I took a tentative step forward, tried to smile again and said quietly, “But, we need help.”

“I said ‘GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!’” he yelled at me, rising slightly out of his chair as he shouted. His words echoed off the walls. I froze in place, now frightened. Angry I wasn’t moving, he leaped out of his chair. Standing to emphasize his threat he growled, “Go away or I’ll send you to seg!! That’s a directive!!” he hollered. Shakily I stepped backwards and watched him fall back into his chair, where he studied his nails again, scowling.

Have you ever been ignored or mistreated when asking for help? How did it make you feel? How did you respond?

I returned to the group of women at the table, who had been watching the exchange. Raising an eyebrow I sat. Next to me a young, busty blonde stood assertively. Pushing her long hair over one shoulder she smoothed her tight shirt over her hips and said, “Leave this to me, girls.”

Hips swaying dramatically, hair swishing back and forth with each step, we watched as she approached the guard desk. Looking up, the guard’s demeanor instantly changed as he noticed this new arrival. Smoothing his hair, he sat straighter.

Placing both hands on the counter, the blond threw back her shoulders and leaned toward the guard. “I wonder if you could help me?” she demurred, batting her eyelashes.

Practically leaping to attention, the guard eagerly stood. He even smiled! Those of us in the cheap seats glanced at each other. “What can I do for you?” he asked her.

“I think those are our canteen slips behind you,” she said and pointed to a side table behind him. “We really need those,” she adopted a pouty lip, “or we won’t get our canteen.”

Spinning, the guard began searching, (I hope for his pride which was nowhere to be seen). Discovering the missing canteen slips he set them before her like an offering. She didn’t disappoint, praising him for his “good job” with a delicate clap of her hands. The rest of us rolled our eyes, glad the problem was solved.

While that situation had a quick resolution, I faced another challenge. Years earlier, after successfully completing sex offender treatment, I’d been granted in-person visiting privileges with my children. I had one final restriction, however, unremoved. I was still required, during these visits, to sit near the guard desk in the visiting room. This was a barrier I wanted removed as evidence of my hard work.

Visiting room privileges were assessed and increased as ‘predatory’ offenders (kidnappers, murderers and sex offenders) completed required and suggested programming. I’d completed everything and more. While my children had not visited in years, the restriction was not based on the likelihood of future visits. Rather it was based on evidence of safety. I wanted it removed, and my name taken off the list of predatory offenders.

Every year I’d carefully filed an appeal (as required), and year after year I was denied. The denials seemed perfunctory, instead of thoughtful. The prison had run out of programming suggestions for me, so what more did they expect? Frustrated, I began to work my way up the chain of command for help.

Soon I began to receive strange responses to my efforts, such as, “You were denied because you haven’t done treatment yet,” which was an obvious error. This and many other responses told me no one was really taking my appeals seriously. I was being denied out of hand.

Frustrated, I sent a 10-page letter outlining my request to the DOC Commissioner. In it I listed all my accomplishments. The commissioner’s office simply sent the letter back to the warden of Shakopee, who for the second time personally denied my appeal. I began to wonder what was going on, why this process existed.

…year after year I was denied. The denials seemed perfunctory, instead of thoughtful.

I began to wonder what was going on, why this process existed.

“Your appeal will never be approved. Not ever. You will never win,” he said.

I found a large disconnect between the narrative she was outlining and the facts.

After 4 years of this, in February 2017 a Lieutenant asked to see me. I was called to his office, where I sat in a chair across from his desk. Pushing papers aside he looked up and said, “I know you’ve been appealing your visiting restriction, and I want to talk to you about that.” I nodded and he continued, saying, “Your appeal will never be approved. Not ever. I agree that you have done everything asked of you, and more than that. However, we don’t care. No sex offender has ever had all restrictions lifted and their name removed from the predatory offenders list. Never. So, get used to it. It doesn’t matter what you do, we’ll always deny it.”

I was shocked, asking, “Why am I encouraged to appeal every year, told to appeal, if it is denied automatically?”

He sat back and folded his hands, explaining, “We do not want to approve anyone because we fear that if you are released from prison and commit a crime, it will look like we don’t know what we are doing. So, we just deny everyone to play it safe. You are right, you are told to appeal each year, and you should do that because it is your responsibility to do that. However, I want to make it clear that this is just a formality. You will never win.” My heart sank. Shaken, I left his office discouraged.

Have you ever worked hard only to be denied recognition for your efforts? Have you ever been told your work had no lasting value? How did that affect you?

Passing the guard desk afterwards I heard my name called. “Ms. Aho? I have legal mail here for you,” the officer on duty said. Since losing my parental rights last September I had begun receiving legal mail from my new attorney. Her job was to help me appeal that decision. She began sending documents she’d prepared for the court. As I read them, I found a large disconnect between the narrative she was outlining and the facts.

I noted mischaracterizations and outright mistakes in her work. Strangely, it was as if my letters to her were never read. Like my previous attorney it began to feel as if she was just pushing paper through a process to check the box “we did this.” Her fictional accounts of my life, very similar to social service’s fictional reports, became the existing narrative.

After a few months, my motivation to correct her fell away. A few more months, and I didn’t bother to correct her at all. A few more months, and I stopped opening mail from her. What was the point? Unopened envelopes began piling up in my closet.

Similarly crushed by the Lt. who’d discussed my visiting room privileges appeals, I gave up there too. I did indeed continue to appeal as instructed, however I no longer put any energy into it. Now I simply wrote, “It’s me again. Here’s my appeal notice,” and waited to be denied (which I was).

The months rolled by and soon it was May of 2017. God was about to bring another one of my children back into my life. Luke was graduating high school in Seattle, and my parents decided to attend the ceremony. They were shocked by his appearance. Thin, malnourished, he appeared small and frail.

Luke had been kicked out of the house a year earlier by my husband. Since then, he’d been living with a friend, very depressed. My parents immediately suggested he come home with them, and he did. I was overjoyed to have him nearby!

My parents prepared to bring him for a visit. It was at this time that the prison once again updated visiting room policy for all inmates, much to my delight. Up till now children aged 10 and under could sit beside their parents and be allowed to touch their parents during the visit. Now the prison raised the age to 17 and under, which meant Lukas, whom I had not seen since he was 13 (when he was not allowed to sit beside me), could have a better visit.

Quickly my parents brought him to see me before he turned 18. What a joy! Happily, I caught up on his life. I’d not been able to contact him for nearly a year! Sitting beside him I enjoyed hearing all about his life and future plans.

It’s important to note that my obstacles were men’s plans – plans to separate my family and deny my reform. They were not God’s plans, and He would soon show me the difference.

“[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” Phil. 2:13

In November 2018, just weeks before I went home, God did what men said would never happen – and He did it twice!

“It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of [anxious] toil—for He gives [blessings] to His beloved in sleep.” Psalm 127:2

As I returned to my room afterwards, I considered my victories and struggles. For the past year God had been transforming me inwardly according to Philippians 2:13:

“[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.

His strength had given me victory over many sinful areas of my life, though at times the work was difficult. Now He would teach me an even greater lesson found in Psalm 127:

“It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of [anxious] toil—for He gives [blessings] to His beloved in sleep.

I had been diligently pursuing restored family relationships and justice in the prison. Now I felt a stand still. I imagined my future. Since I’d lost my parental rights with 13-year-old Tim, I’d been told I wouldn’t have any contact with him before he was 18. I had also been told I would never win my visiting room restrictions appeal and be removed from the predatory offenders list. I had fought hard on both fronts.

It’s important to note that my obstacles were men’s plans – plans to separate my family and deny my reform. They were not God’s plans, and He would soon show me the difference. Billy Graham once said, “When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.” I had come to the end of myself. God was about to turn it all around with victory after victory for His glory, and He wouldn’t need my help to do it!

Do you need hope in your circumstances today? Are you experiencing defeat at every turn? Have you reached the end of yourself?

I understand and want to encourage you today! Some of God’s best plans involve making His work evident to all, including ourselves. Such work deepens our trust and reliance on Him and takes our eyes off ourselves and other people. Sometimes that work involves waiting.

I want to share what that looked like for me in the obstacles I mention here to give you hope for your future. Fast forward to a year and a half later, in the summer of 2018. I appealed my visiting room restrictions for the final time before my release. I filled out the required form with nothing more than, “It’s me again. I’m appealing my place on the predatory offenders list.” I made no mention of why I felt I should win. The hearing to decide my fate was delayed, twice over 2 months.

In addition to the delays I’d been informed there was a new Sgt. in charge of the decision, a man I believed to be harsh and unsympathetic. It was also becoming more likely, this close to release, that I would not be seeing my minor children in visiting again before my release (which the prison seemed to think important to winning the appeal). Winning my appeal appeared more impossible than ever.

In November 2018, just weeks before I went home, God did what men said would never happen – and He did it twice!

“Holly, I just got a call from Tim’s foster mom,” my mom told me on the phone one evening. “She told me she wants to adopt Tim. She called me because Tim would not agree to the adoption unless he could be allowed contact with you again,” she added.

My mind raced! Tim had just turned 16 years old. My heart began to pound as I waited for her to continue. Was this going to turn out well? “She told me she plans to let Tim keep your last name. She says it’s important to her that he be reunited with his family, especially his parents,” my mom paused and added, “here’s his phone number. He’s waiting for your call.”

I burst into happy tears! I could not make this new call fast enough. Within minutes we were connected over years and thousands of miles. How good is God! He had not waited until my release from prison, He had met me where I was at – still an inmate – and restored my son to me.

How good is God! He had not waited until my release from prison, He had met me where I was at – still an inmate – and restored my son to me.

“For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.” Jeremiah 29:11

After the call I floated to my room, passing the bank of mailboxes on the way. I decided to stop and get my mail. Opening the box, I found a formal looking paper inside. Unfolding the page I read, uncomprehending. It took some moments to make sense of the words, “Congratulations! You have won your appeal! All visiting restrictions have ended, and you have been removed from the predatory offenders list.”

I stared in shock! I had won? The impossible had just happened. What was once never done had just been done – for me! I hugged the paper to my chest and cried in relief.

Though my story continues, I wanted to share this glimpse into my journey to illustrate that God’s timing is perfect. He accomplishes the seemingly impossible, often beyond our understanding or efforts. As I prepared to reenter society, these experiences fortified my trust and confidence in His plans.

God has good plans for you, too!


  1. Restored Relationships:

    • Reflect on the passage in Philippians 2:13. How do you see God’s work in your relationships, especially the strained ones? How has He moved in unexpected ways to bring about healing and restoration?
    • Holly experiences a fragile but renewed relationship with her son Tom. How do you handle fragile relationships in your life? What steps can you take to nurture them, even if they are not as strong as you would like?
  2. Experiencing Mistreatment:

    • When Holly approached the guard for help and was mistreated, it echoed feelings of being ignored or devalued. Have you ever felt similarly mistreated? How did you respond, and what can you learn from Jesus’ example in dealing with such situations (Matthew 5:38-42)?
    • Holly and the other inmates faced an issue with their canteen orders. Reflect on a time when you felt frustrated by an unresolved issue. How did you seek resolution? How does patience play a role in dealing with bureaucratic or systemic issues according to James 1:2-4?
  3. Unrecognized Efforts:

    • Holly faced continuous denials despite her hard work and appeals. Have you ever felt your efforts were not recognized or valued? How do you cope with these feelings, and how does Colossians 3:23-24 guide you in working for the Lord rather than for human recognition?
    • Reflect on Holly’s perseverance in appealing her case. What does Galatians 6:9 teach us about persistence and not giving up, even when we don’t see immediate results?
  4. Finding Hope in Difficult Circumstances:

    • Holly finds hope in Psalm 127, recognizing the futility of anxious toil. How can you apply this principle to your own life? Are there areas where you need to let go and trust more in God’s timing and provision?
    • Discuss a time when you felt you had reached the end of your strength and God intervened. How did this experience strengthen your faith? How can you encourage others going through similar challenges with the truths found in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10?
  5. God’s Timing and Miracles:

    • Holly experiences what she describes as God’s perfect timing in restoring her relationship with her son Tim and winning her appeal. Reflect on a time when God’s timing in your life felt perfect and miraculous. How does Isaiah 40:31 encourage you to wait on the Lord?
    • Consider Billy Graham’s quote, “When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.” How does this resonate with your own experiences? How can you draw strength from this truth during times of waiting and uncertainty?
  6. God’s Plans vs. Human Plans:

    • Holly differentiates between men’s plans and God’s plans, citing how human efforts to separate her family and deny her reform were overturned by God. How does Jeremiah 29:11 give you hope in situations where human plans seem to be against you?
    • Reflect on the statement, “God is never late on our behalf, and He can do what we have been told is impossible.” How have you seen this truth in your life or the lives of others? How does this inspire you to trust God more fully with your future?

Introduction: Get to know From Surviving to Living!

A brief note or two for first time visitors. First, welcome! I'm so glad to see you! Are you in need of rescue? Here is my rescue story. I share it because I know it can be your story too! It is my prayer that every post lead you one step closer in your walk with...

Chapter 1: BEFORE

Prison didn’t change my life.  Earthly things don't change us into heavenly creatures. Salvation is a gift from God. It just so happens I was in prison when that happened for me. Before my arrest at age 35 in 2010 I never thought about prison, jail, or the criminal...

Chapter 2: JAIL

I was arrested in March 2010. Again I heard the familiar questions, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I had long believed myself to be the source of conflict in our family. Our family's shared religious beliefs, strong convictions, and high expectations...


A year passed after I was first arrested in 2010 before I was sentenced and sent to prison. During this year I served 3 months in county jail, was released on bail, and had many court hearings. I passed the year in a mental fog, in such a haze I was even unaware I was...


I have said I was unaware previously that I needed to change. What does that mean? I believed myself to be a good person or at least a person who understood what good is, even if I lacked the ability to consistently and reliably perform it. I felt I had a good moral...


Suicide watch in Shakopee takes place in the facility's segregation unit. While inmates are most often taken to seg for disciplinary reasons, suicide watch and health concerns are other reasons why segregation is also used for administrative detention. It was October,...

Chapter 6: WoW

In October 2011, as I waited to be released from seg, I received a kite (internal institutional mail) from the director of Shakopee's Women of Wellness program (WoW). She invited me to participate in the six week "in-patient" mental health program. Already terminated...

Chapter 7: General Assembly (Burning Rubber)

It is November 2011. I finished the WoW program and became eligible for the workforce. Nervously I checked my mail daily, waiting for a job assignment. I'd been fired from my last job so I could not choose the next one. It would be assigned to me based on the needs of...


I began my job in General Assembly the end of November 2011. Also called Rubber, it was housed in a large warehouse building shared by several educational and industry job opportunities. There were 2 main jobs - ring inspections and cutting rubber. Rings were actually...


It was January 2012 and I worked in General Assembly inspecting gaskets at base pay, 50 cents an hour. PIE work, given out on seniority, paid $4-$6 per hour. I set my sights on top pay and planned. I didn't have long to wait. One afternoon prison guards entered,...
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