By Neil Sterud, Herald Intern
Reaching across 22 prisons in four states, Pastor Chris Mullen, a Discovery Bay resident, has touched the lives of tens of thousands of prisoners. The unique journey that led him to this position is nothing less than remarkable.
Pastor Chris has walked a tumultuous path with a familiarity that extends to the prison gates. His journey into the dark realms of drugs and dealing began at the age of twelve, escalating to his first incarceration at fifteen when he set fire to a teacher’s classroom, fueled by a sense of perceived injustice. As the years unfolded, he found himself in a relentless cycle of criminality, convinced that his mission was merely to excel as a drug dealer, viewing the revolving prison doors as an unfortunate norm. Serving a total of six years behind bars, Chris’s redemption journey began with a spiritual awakening—a “tug on his heart” echoing through the confines of his San Quentin cell as volunteers sang Christmas carols, sparking the rekindling of his faith.
Amidst a history marked by recurring encounters with the legal system, one of Chris’ parole violations unfolded in a harrowing incident—a collision with a police car during a traffic stop while under the influence.
Years later, he was arrested again. Faced with the consequences of his actions, he recognized the urgent need for a transformative change. Upon his release, Chris sought assistance for his struggles with substance abuse and, in a pivotal moment, rededicated his life to a path guided by faith in God.
In 1999, facing denial to serve in San Quentin State Prison, Pastor Chris secured access to the California Division of Juvenile Justice. For years, he dedicated one day a month to this mission without financial compensation until he felt a compelling calling to take a leap of faith. After fervent prayer, he courageously resigned from his high-paying job, navigating the challenges of the Great Recession in 2009 with no backup plan, solely driven by his commitment to serving the inmate community. Throughout this transformative period, he relied on donations of free food from food banks and churches to make ends meet.
Inspired by his pastor’s definition of mercy as ‘not getting what we deserve’ and grace as ‘getting what we don’t deserve,’ Chris named his prison ministry “Mercy and Grace”. Based in Livermore, the ministry is a beacon of hope within correctional facilities, offering inmates the transformative power of compassion and unmerited favor. It is a 501c3 non-profit corporation registered in the State of California.
Mercy and Grace Ministries has since expanded its reach to outside California, to Utah, Idaho and Florida, with preparations underway to launch their Idaho Region. Amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pastor Chris’ sermons found a unique platform on the Division of Rehabilitative Programs Television, broadcast on Inmate TV across every state prison in California. Additionally, the ministry actively engages with inmates through a robust letter-writing program, connecting with men and women in California and Idaho, as well as women in Utah. The organization thrives with 60 passionate volunteers, fueling impactful change behind bars.
To extend his service to a broader audience, Pastor Chris enlisted the help of a translator to connect with Spanish-speaking prisoners. Leveraging available resources, he had his sermons translated and shared in Spanish over 100 times. In the past six months, the Spanish arm of Mercy and Grace Ministries was launched, with dedicated individuals now delivering the Good News in a second language.
In a society that often turns its back on the demographic of prisoners, Pastor Chris stands as a beacon of unwavering commitment to the overlooked. In a candid conversation, when remarking on the gravity of crimes committed by some in his congregation, he responded with a touch of humor, saying, “All of the guys I work with are in there for jaywalking.”
His experiences are far from lighthearted, though, as he has braved the chaos of violent gang clashes, enduring the ominous rain of powder rounds from guard turrets, and even donned the weight of body armor. Despite these challenges, Pastor Chris remains undeterred in his mission, extending a compassionate hand to those that society often chooses to forget.
To learn more about his ministry and how to volunteer, visit https://mercyandgrace.org.