Retired from a career as an accountant, financial planner, controller and insurance adviser, Mike Farmer, BS ’69, is dedicated to serving God and loving his people through prison ministry.
Farmer has traveled to jails and prisons throughout the Kansas City area as part of the Gracious Promise Foundation and Jacob’s Well Prison Ministries.
Baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, Farmer has relied on the biblical verse Matthew 25:36 to guide him for 30 years after his pastor asked him to volunteer behind the walls of the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kan. The verse resonated with him: I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
“When I go behind the walls, I see Jesus in each one of the people I see,” Farmer says. “Every life is valuable, every person is worth redemption, every heart has made mistakes and needs a second chance. Who am I to judge?”
He sees people incarcerated for different reasons. Farmer tries to connect with them in a chapel service or individually through prayer and hymns such as “I’ll Fly Away,” “Washed in Blood” and “Just as I Am.”
“Those hymns really touch you,” Farmer says. “The prisoners need this, being in chapel and praising Jesus. It provides some freedom for them to break the routine of being locked up in those archaic cells.”
In addition to trips to Lansing, Farmer travels to the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Army barracks in Leavenworth, jails and juvenile centers in Johnson County and the Topeka (Kan.) Correctional Facility. He is especially fond of the work being done in Topeka, where Baker University students participate in an Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.
Farmer financially supports Baker’s involvement with the program. His gifts cover the costs of books and travel, allowing Baker students in a criminal justice course to travel weekly to the facility to study along and share stories with incarcerated women. He also provides T-shirts for the women for completing the program, treating the gifts as diplomas.
“The former is such a huge deal because every semester the women in the prison are humbled and excited that they get to keep their books,” said Jake Bucher, associate professor of sociology. “The latter is a great unifying thing and provides an indicator of accomplishment. Mike has attended most of our closing ceremonies, and his presence and words at these ceremonies have been impactful on everyone.”
Farmer admires the relationships Bucher and the students are building with the women. He sees the difference they are making.
“Every time I go there for graduation I am blown away by the ladies and students,” Farmer proudly says. “I see the change in all of them and what they share in how to reform the criminal justice system. It’s truly a life-changing experience for all of them.”
Farmer has noticed during his visits to prisons that the incarcerated desperately need direction in their lives. They often have “bad playmates and bad playgrounds they want to go back to.”
He believes love and acceptance are a beginning to a better future.
“It is such a tragedy,” he says, shaking his head. “They are not bad people. They are wounded people who made bad decisions. It breaks my heart to see them locked up. There is a future and hope for them.”