REACHOUT ROLE MODELS: Sometimes jail is an answer to a prayer

ROCKFORD -- In April 2015, Cory Bendorf made a curious request of God.
The 25-year-old Beloit, Wis., native was on a “two- to three-month cocaine binge” when he prayed to God, saying “man, I can’t do this no more. I need some help. Even if you have to put me in jail to get me clean, do it.”

God answered.

Bendorf had been laid off from a solid job at Steel Cutters Inc. in Rockford and was driving around filling out job applications when he got into a car accident.

“I don’t know what came over me, but I left the scene,” Bendorf said. When police caught up with him, he was charged with a number of traffic offenses, including a felony charge of fleeing an accident with injuries.

Bendorf pleaded guilty and spent May through August in jail in Winnebago County as well as Rock County, Wis. When he walked out though he said he was a different man.

“When I went to jail here, they have the church, they have the jail ministry,” Bendorf said. “It really turned my life around. I turned my eyes toward God and away from drugs and alcohol.”

Of course, it’s after leaving jail that the real work began for Bendorf. He lost his mother at age 14 and began drinking and smoking marijuana at 15. He was kicked out of school in 9th grade because of drug possession, and he has almost no relationship with his father. He would have to find support from other sources.

To stay headed in the right direction, he decided to keep working with the people at Rockford Reachout Jail Ministry. He meets weekly for lunch with Gary Merkel, Reachout Inside program director, and takes part in a Monday night Credo Recovery men’s group with Merkel. He attends North Love Baptist Church in Rockford weekly and is working his way through a Bible study correspondence course with the Salvation Army.

“I’m getting the kind of direction now that I’ve really never had in my life.”

He spends most of the rest of his time giving away government cell phones for American Assistance - he receives $3 for each phone he gives away - looking for better jobs and studying for the GED.

Like most, Bendorf has struggled to find well paying employment after leaving jail. In his case, it isn’t his record. “My felonies are traffic related. They don’t hurt me much.”

Instead, it is his lack of education. Rockford Reachout got Bendorf involved with the Workforce Connection, which is helping him pay for classes to pass his GED and already has helped him secure grants and loans to go to Rock Valley College.

“I want to become a machinist and go to school for engineering,” Bendorf said. “I don’t plan on going back to the way I was living. I want to become a mentor. I want to help others get off alcohol and drugs. I know I can’t do that yet because I’m not ready, but I want to be one of the people who helps turn Rockford around.”

-- By Alex Gary, president of Alex Gary Communications Inc.