Transforming Lives Behind Bars: The Story of Houston’s COOL Ministries, Inc.

HOUSTON, TX—For two decades, one non-profit ministry stood on Houston’s bustling 34th street, offering critical support to one of the world’s most overlooked populations: individuals in prisons, jails, drug treatment facilities and transitional living centers. 

Many prisoners and recently released inmates grapple with drug addiction, codependency and the daunting challenges of reintegration into society after long stints in prison—and these issues are compounded by the societal stigmas against convicted felons, who are unlikely to receive public empathy and support while working to change their ways.

Statewide, recidivism rates are around 21%, meaning that over one in five prisoners, once released, will reoffend and wind up back in prison. One key factor? When a person is punished for a crime but not provided with the tools to inwardly change, and then they’re released back into the same, unhealthy home environment, they may very well make the same fateful decision.

The non-profit, COOL Ministries, Inc., strives to embody the timeless question, “What would Jesus do?” in the manner it treats inmates and former inmates. It holds people accountable for their actions while displaying compassion and humanization toward each individual, because every person is more than their sins. 

Moreover, COOL Ministries preaches the possibility of hope and complete recovery from the shackles of drugs and crime through a complete surrender to the Lord. 

Its impact has been tremendous; since it was founded, the organization has shepherded countless souls toward clean, drug and crime-free and positive paths. The ministry offers numerous services, including prison ministry, drug recovery support and societal reintegration support. 

However, a brutal blow was dealt to the ministry when its church and headquarters was shuttered twenty months ago. As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry’s church was forced to close its doors. Although without a home base, the ministry’s founder and leader, Pastor Boyd Harrell, and his wife, Jan Harrell, are unfaltering. 

They have embarked on a new chapter in their vision, as coined by Jan, “Every Prison, Everywhere.” This message conveys their relentless pursuit to transform lives and make a profound impact in communities across the nation.

The Testimony Behind COOL Ministries, Inc. 

Pastor Boyd and Jan Harrell have experienced firsthand the malignant nature of drug and alcohol addiction and crime and the unique obstacles of the incarcerated. Their stories provide chilling testimony to the incredible medicinal powers of being saved by the Lord.

In April of 1993, Pastor Boyd Harrell was arrested and sent to his fourth and final trip to prison. He was addicted to a mixture of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol and weed, and he was charged with a robbery with a bodily injury, which in his words, was “really a shoplifting case gone wrong.”

“I sprayed mace on the man when he tried to stop me, and it turned a simple misdemeanor theft into a robbery with a bodily injury,” Harrell recalled. “I had [already served] 5 years and 4 months on my third trip to prison, and I was right at my third year out when I caught that new case.”

By the third hour of Harrell’s last arrest, he fell to his knees in his jail cell and cried out to the Lord for the first time for deliverance and redemption.

“I told the Lord, ‘I know of you, but I don’t know you. I’ve run from you my whole life. I don’t have anything to give you but this violence, anger and rage, and this filthy mind and nasty mouth.’ My whole life was such a wreck. I told the Lord, ‘If you can do anything with me, I’ll give you the rest of my life,’” he quoted. 

“He showed up not two seconds later. He stepped in that cell with me and delivered me one hundred percent from the drugs and alcohol.”

The experience was spiritually, emotionally and physically profound.

“Normally, I would’ve gotten sick from the lack of the heroin, depressed and freaked out from the lack of the cocaine, and my hands would’ve shook from the lack of the alcohol… I didn’t experience any of it. He just totally set me free.”

“He told me three times, impressed upon my heart—I didn’t hear it audibly in my ear, but I heard it in my spirit—‘Read my Word, read my Word, read my Word.’ All these years later, I’m still reading His Word.”

Harrell served out the remainder of his sentence, and while in prison, the Lord impressed something else upon his soul: the acronym COOL, which stands for “Christ Over Our Life.”

He wasn’t sure what to do with this acronym, but when he was released on parole, twenty-six years ago this July, an answer swiftly arrived. Only five short days after his release, he met Jan, the woman whom he would one day marry. 

“We observed each other in church and hung out a bit for five and a half months, and then I married her, on December 18, 1998. We’ve been together for over twenty-five years, and we started the ministry in the fall of 1999,” Harrell said, his tone lined with adoration.

Jan had a similar background; she was a recovering cocaine addict who had been incarcerated for nearly three years. While in jail, she had given her life to the Lord. Today, Jan celebrates 30 years of sobriety, and Harrell sold-out to the Lord 31 years ago. 

Together with a dedicated team of volunteers, the couple founded COOL Ministries for those in prisons, jails, drug treatment facilities and transitional living centers, and a key component of the ministry is a Christ-centered 12-step recovery and relapse prevention treatment program called “Breaking the Chains.”

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains,” reads Psalm 107:13-14.

Breaking the Chains includes a revolutionary 130-page manual book, a set of two DVDs and a certification of completion from the 14-week program. 

During this time, Harrell, who was in his 40s, enrolled in school at the University of Houston Downtown, where he extended his ministry’s outreach to his peers with “COOL on Campus.” It was there that a group of students and a few close friends whom he preached to encouraged him to start a church.

Thus, the church of COOL Ministries was born—but not without its own adversities. The church was plagued with obstacles like social stigmas against ex-offenders and ultimately COVID-19, which ultimately led to the shutting of its doors. 

“[Believers], they love everybody, but they don’t necessarily want to interact with everybody in society. If a guy is standing there in a church service, and he’s all tatted up, sometimes he can be treated differently than a guy in a suit and tie with his wife and kids,” Harrell observed. 

“We became an oasis of love and a church like no other. We had a full-fledged church, and three quarters of the people in there, including myself and my wife, were all ex-offenders.”

For two decades, the church nurtured, ministered and reformed around 120 people a week, preaching the full gospel and demonstrating Christ’s compassion, forgiveness and willingness to offer redemption to all. The Bible is full of stories like this, where Jesus consistently showed that he came here to seek and save the lost. 

Observe Luke 23:39-45, when during Jesus’ crucifixion, he was crucified alongside two criminals. One of them mocked Jesus, but the other rebuked him, acknowledging Jesus’ innocence and asking to be remembered when Jesus entered his kingdom. In response, Jesus assured the repentant thief that he would be with him in paradise.

What’s on the Horizon

Although COVID-19 ultimately forced the church to shut down, Harrell’s focus is on the horizon. He and Jan have since quadrupled the amount of prisons that they visit regularly, and some prison units host peer-taught classes for the “Breaking the Chains” program, further expanding his impact.

Harrell’s immediate plan for COOL Ministries is to utilize modern technologies to cultivate a podcast that would be accessible to inmates nationwide, shattering the barrier of distance in reaching lost souls. He hopes to partner with Securus Technologies, which has recently provided every inmate with a tablet, to deliver his message of hope directly into the hands of the some 250 thousand incarcerated people in America. 

“I want to create a Podcast for the Securus Tablets and update all forms of social media, including updating COOL Ministries website,” Harrell said. “We also envision creating a new welcoming center for our headquarters in the Houston, Texas area.”

The Breaking the Chains program is powerful. Much of the curriculum was written by Dr. Vaughn M. Bryant III, who was a well-respected mental healthcare provider, trainer and program developer in the Greater Houston area. Later, Bryant relocated to Edwards, Colorado.

Harrell further developed the program based on his firsthand experience as a recovered addict who became and remained sober through the Lord.

“It’s very powerful, what God did in my life, so I try to convey this in the curriculum. There is an anointing on it, for sure, the Lord has used it well to reach people. One program alum from a female prison had graduated from the program, and then she transferred out into a transitional home in Victoria, TX,” Harrell described.

“She showed her house manager the book, and that lady called me and asked for permission to teach the curriculum. Now they have the manual book and videos, and another twelve to fifteen ladies are going through the book. The Lord is exponentially expanding the ministry.

An Urgent Call for Support:

However, despite their remarkable impact, COOL Ministries faces financial challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. Harrell’s energy is waning, and the ministry struggles to sustain its operations and expand its reach.

You can be a part of this transformative journey by becoming a donor or volunteer. Your support can help COOL Ministries, Inc. continue its vital work of bringing hope and redemption to those behind bars.

Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something. Even a contribution as small as the price of a cup of coffee a day would make a difference. If you donate, you would be involved with every transformation. Every soul who is won would be credited to your heavenly account.

In a world marred by darkness, COOL Ministries, Inc. stands as a beacon of hope, offering light and redemption to those who need it most. With your support, their impact can be multiplied, and lives can be forever changed. Join them on their mission to transform lives, one soul at a time.

Please feel free to contact Pastor Boyd L. Harrell directly at 281-687-8366 to learn several ways to become a Covenant Partner with COOL Ministries, Inc.

Donating through the C.O.O.L. Website:

Set up your donations with your bank routing number and checking account number, as we all know that bank cards get lost and/or expire periodically.

Visit our website, click “donate,” click on the green “text to give a link,” and scroll down to click on “bank,” rather than “card.” Then, you may add your routing number and checking account number.

Zelle: COOL Ministries, Inc.

(281) 763-1793

CashApp: $BoydLHarrell

PayPal: C.O.O.L. Ministries, Inc., or a second account, C.O.O.L. Ministries, Inc.

Square: Contact me directly to use Square with a credit card or debit card at (281) 687-8366.

COOL Text Giving: (832) 988-3943

Mail Checks or Money Orders to:

COOL Ministries, Inc.

PO Box 924135

Houston, TX 77292

“We remain investors in the people we are called to, by Almighty God.”

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