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Torn Pages

Paper beads offer the gift of hope, peace and strength to those imprisoned by difficult circumstances.

Shrouded by gray prison walls, Jay Gardner found a pearl of great price in a humble string of beads made of paper and floor wax, an important part of his personal story of redemption. The discovery also led to Jay’s founding of Torn Pages, a nonprofit offering help to those imprisoned by difficult circumstances.

“Everybody has torn pages in their lives,” Jay said, “There’s a world out there that needs to experience God’s hope, peace and strength.”

Jay’s own torn pages began at an early age. Born in South Carolina to teen parents, he had lived in eight different states and Puerto Rico by the time he was 15. Struggles with drugs and alcohol began when he was only 7, nevertheless, he grew up to have a career in the Navy and became a champion boxer. By 1988, God had transformed his life. “I had two beautiful kids, a wife, a business, and a ministry,” he said. In 1994 Jay made plans to enter the seminary. The decision threw him into spiritual warfare. “It was beyond measure,” he said, “I thought God had abandoned me.”

When his wife left him, Jay’s life fell apart. He returned to drugs and alcohol. “I lost my way,” he said, “That’s what addiction can do to people. I went on a crime spree and robbed some hotels and restaurants.”

Jay, who said he had never been arrested before, was deemed “the gentleman bandit.” Detectives said some of his victims described him as friendly, cute, and someone they would hire for a job. Although Jay said he didn’t have a gun when committing the crimes, some of the victims believed he did, and he was charged with armed robbery. In 1997, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison without the possibility of parole. “I turned my back on God,” he said. “It’s something I’m not proud of.”

About three years into his sentence, Jay noticed a fellow inmate wearing a colorful bead necklace with a cross on it.  He was mesmerized. After learning it was made of paper and floor wax, he bought it. “I had to have it. There are no gifts in prison and there are no colors in prison. Now I had me a gift.”

Later that evening, Jay said God knocked on his heart and asked, “Do you know what you have?” Jay thought of grace and love, mercy and forgiveness, and what Jesus had done on the cross. But he said God drew his attention to the necklace and told him, “It’s a reflection of the pages that have been torn and ripped in your life.”

“All my torn pages came up in my heart, and out of my eyes in tears,” Jay said. With 17 more years of prison ahead, he felt God was telling him, “I can take the torn pages of your life and create something beautiful.”

Although Jay admits his walk with God was sidetracked at times, he learned to make the paper bead necklaces and bracelets and sent them out to touch the lives of others. The Christian radio station he listened to even gave him an award for making a difference in people’s lives from his cell.  

Since his release about five years ago, Jay has built Torn Pages on four pillars of ministry. The primary pillar is to pass along the gift of hope, peace and strength to others going through life’s torn pages.

Another pillar is to provide shelter, food, clothing, jobs and mentoring for those re-entering society after release from prison. To plan for this, Jay has met with Georgia Department of Corrections officials.   

A third ministry pillar is to provide a livelihood for people in third-world countries. Although Torn Page’s necklaces and bracelets are still made in prisons, Jay has also contracted with 28 women in three Uganda villages who are also making the jewelry.

Torn Page’s fourth ministry pillar is to help other non-profits raise funds through the sale of their jewelry.  

Jay is living proof that torn pages can become something beautiful. “What the enemy meant for evil in our lives God used it for good to bring blessing to others.” 

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  • Villagers in Uganda making bracelets
  • Jay sells bracelets at local market