Jimmy Jensen (on left side of photo) prays with friend Michael Dotson for Dotson’s dying mother, Judy, at Centennial Hospital, Nashville, March 2018. It was a sign of the new life Jensen has carved out for himself in Nashville. A convicted criminal enforcer once facing decades behind bars, Jensen now uses his hands for tender things. He has become a chaplain.
Jimmy and Michael became friends at Safe Harbour, a West Nashville neighborhood halfway house for men transitioning from jail back to free life. Jimmy was a resident of Safe Harbor only a year prior following release from prison. Within months Jimmy was serving as a lay chaplain at Safe Harbor. Less than a year later Jimmy was released as a resident and brought on as a part-time chaplain.
Jimmy said these are the toughest moments for anyone, losing a loved one. But for someone prone to getting in trouble and just getting out of prison, he said the difficulty is compounded. The smallest difficulties can trigger a person and send them spiraling into old habits. The big problems can seem impossible to surmount.
When Jimmy was paroled he vowed to
Keep living right
When Jimmy was paroled he vowed to keep living “right.” He said the day he entered prison he prayed and made a decision to change his life. Through more than three years in prison he kept his promise. After only six months following his release he was out of the halfway house and had full custody of his two young daughters, Victoria and Rose–a miracle, he said. But also evidence of his resolve to keep living right.
Jimmy said it is easy to get into routine and ignore other people’s needs. But part of how he lives “right,” he said, is to keep himself open to serving others. Jimmy likes to ask people a question. He says, “What does your ministry look like?” He says he asks himself the same question. It is a question about what you are or are not doing. It is easy to talk about helping people, he said. But actually helping someone requires you to take action.
When someone calls you in the middle of the night, you have to ask yourself
What does my ministry look like?
When someone calls you in the middle of the night, he says, and tells you they are falling apart and they need someone to come sit with them you have to ask yourself, “What does my ministry look like?”
So when Michael phoned and said he needed someone, Jimmy didn’t hesitate. His daughters understand, he said. And they have back-up with good neighbors who call each other to look after each other’s children.
Judy died a few days later. Michael hung on. Thanks to a friend answering the call to come when asked.