Our Jail and Prison Ministries seek to minister to the inmates, those who are at-risk, and those seeking to re-enter society plus their families. Our volunteers get training from local agencies to allow them to minister to our target populations. Prison Fellowship (International) is a major partner almost everywhere we are.
We view prevention the most effective way of doing jail and prison ministry. We target at-risk populations and seek to bring them the spiritual tools they need to change their behaviors and live transformed lives in Christ. At each level of risk, we try to provide positive activities to the paths they are pursuing (through youth programs and mentoring or coaching).
- Children. Its been shown that a very high proportion of those incarcerated did poorly in school; the biggest indicator being a failure to read at grade level in the Third Grade. Subsets of this group include children whose father is absent from the home due to incarceration or criminal activity, recent immigrants (including refugees), and children from unstable homes. We, and our partners, provide mentor volunteers to help with school work, improve reading, and to help with developing strong healthy relationships; they also provide mature answers to the child's questions. Aside from growing more confident in school and making better grades, the children tend to also be receptive to the Christian testimony of our mentors through their caring example and gentle demeanor.
- Truants and Juveniles in legal trouble. There are a variety of reasons for truancy, but our volunteers try to engage them in conversations to get down to the root issues. Often, its problems with parents or other authorities, but one of the solutions is experiencing the loving authority of God through Jesus Christ. Some jurisdictions have a "scared straight" program.
- The Prison Fellowship "Angel Tree" program is one of the means we have to work with children at risk and their families.
- Gang members. Gang intervention is a well-developed art. Most gang members are recruited because they are susceptible because of a need for self-esteem and respect. They may have an older sibling who recruits them. (If we have the opportunity to deal with the entire family, huge victories can be won.
- Substance abusers. We view substance abuse as a symptom of a need to fill "the hole in the soul" that is intended for a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Our Restore Life approach has proven very successful in (1) bring people to faith in Christ and (2) resolving substance abuse issues and (3) addressing other problems that are usually related, such as forgiveness issues, anxieties, depression, co-dependencies, etc. Substance abusers are very susceptible to being drawn into criminal activities. Furthermore, there can be other mental health issues that develop over time. The sooner we can establish a ministry relationship with them, the easier it is to release them from the slavery to their substance or dependency.
People in jail or prison. Jails, in most places, are merely a temporary holding place for people who are either awaiting trial or have been convicted and are awaiting transport to a prison. Prison is a place where people serve a sentence separated from society for the sake of the peace and security of society. Christians have had ministry to prisoners for millennia. Aside from the fact that in many places, people would die in prison if nobody brought food to them, Christians bringing the love of Christ to people in prison have brought untold people to Christ. The thief on the Cross who asked Christ to remember him when He came into His Kingdom was the first example, although his redeemed life was very short. The message of redemption can be very powerful to one upon whom the condemnation of judgement has fallen. In addition to doing worship services, Bible studies, and other obviously religious activities, religious volunteers and chaplains have a major role in changing Prison into a REFORMatory or PENITENTiary. The real answer is that one who is penitent before God gains a reformed life. Part of the important function of jail/prison ministry is to help each person truly repent and surrender their life to Christ. The vast majority of prisoners will get released after serving their sentence; the challenge of the ministry is to help them to continue relying on Christ rather than relapsing back into their old life. "So not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals", so the ministry needs to prepare them for release to a new life rather than a return to an old life. The next step is to prepare them with the resources they need to live their new life in Christ while still serving their sentence and then after they are release. Bible study, counseling, and teaching the will of God is fundamental.
The Reentry Ministry is also critically important. This is a post-release ministry in the community. In our approach, we seek to provide a mentor (or two or three) to help the ex-convict make it in a hostile environment in society. Almost 90% of parolees and ex-convicts find their way back into prison, usually because they have no repentance and no hope in Christ and no alternatives to the life they lived in the past. In fact, they may have learned some new "better" ways to be evil in society. (And they have convinced themselves they won't get caught again."
Reentry needs to start with the inmate's family. Ministry needs to occur to ensure that the evil influences that contributed to the conviction event are resolved. Pains, unforgiveness, barriers to reunification, grieving for the lost time, and a host of other issues need to be dealt with. Again, Prison Fellowship has a host of resources to help in this area, but volunteers bringing the love of Christ into the family is important. Usually, this ministry starts long before a known release date is known. the "Angel Tree" ministry is one of the means that starts working with the family.
Reentry Ministry receives men and women on referral (often from chaplains) during pre-release programs. The goal is to ensure that the good alternatives to the old life are available and made real. Housing, a job, new relationships, a community of faith, and restored relationships to their family are all important. They don't necessarily all happen at once. There is a lot of brokenness that can occur while there is a long separation of incarceration. Adult mentors, usually of spiritual maturity, are always needed for this type of ministry.
A critical issue in all of these ministries is for each person to discover God's plan and and purpose for their own life. We are each individuals with specially individualized plans from God. The tool of personal prayer is really important, but an important first step prayer is "Lord, I can't, You can, You take control, Thank You, Jesus."
We also seek to find out which community and family members contributed to the issues that steered the inmate toward the mistakes he/she made. We try to contact the family and to minister tp their needs. The desire is to create a Christ-oriented community for the newly released person to enter with positive supports and godly friends helping them maintain godly goals. If there are past issues with substance abuse, we seek to provide support for staying clean and sober.
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