Friday, October 27, 2006

When I was in prison, did you visit me?

"God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called," says the Christian Restorative Justice Mentors Association. They're a prisoner re-entry group working with TDCJ that I wasn't aware of before, but I ran across their website this morning.

Here's an example of one of their local programs at the Wynne unit in Huntsville - they've got 8 active mentors there who go to the prison once a month for a couple of hours. There are also 15 prisoners at Wynne who've requested mentors but don't have one. Information about unit-specific programs (they're not at every one) are available in links in the sidebar. Here's a description of the group's mission from its website:
It's great to get out again, but in reality less than 5% of marriages even survive a prison sentence.

Hundreds of inmates like those above are released with just a bus ticket and a sack of their belongings. Most have no one waiting for them at the gate. Now problems have just begun, things like:
  • Finding a place to stay
  • Where to find a job?
  • Need some type of transportation
But it doesn't have to be that way ... because a mentor can make a difference! Almost 60% of those released will be back within 3 years, all because no one cared enough.
The group is holding an all-day volunteer training in Houston on November 11. Their site also promotes TDCJ's Operation Rebound program, run by a former director of Exodus Ministries, a Dallas-based prisoner after-care program. Here's a description of their role in TDCJ re-entry programming, again from their website:
The Faith-Based Community has now been asked by TDCJ to hold ReEntry programs in the prison system.

The first one is now going on at the Kegans State Jail in downtown Houston.

This is a collaboration of many different ministries working together to bring to the inmates the education and life skills they need to be successful when they leave the jail. It is all centered on Jesus, but has aspects such as values training, substance abuse and financial planning as well.

One of our most immediate needs is for Coaches/Mentors. We have men who will be leaving as soon as February 16th 2006!

We are looking for men to coach male inmates 2 times a month or more.
Because of the nature of the program, we have almost unlimited access to the men at any time of day, so there is a lot of freedom to choose when to visit. We need people who can commit to maintaining contact with the inmate for at least a year after he leaves prison, perhaps even picking him up when he’s released and taking him to his (hopefully) new residence.

We will be opening a new 58 bed Dorm at the women’s Unit at Plane State in March and will need women Mentor/Coaches for there, also.
This is a great example of religious charities fulfilling a role that really should be played by the criminal justice system and the state: helping re-integrate ex-prisoners back into society once they're released. A "coach" can only do so much, though. What they need is a job and a place to live. While some folks may dislike that such programs are "centered on Jesus," I don't see anybody else stepping forward with many alternatives. At least CRJMA is trying to help. Bully for them for taking the initiative.

Christ once asked his disciples, "When I was in prison, did you visit me?" They replied by asking him when were you ever in prison? He responded that if they'd never visited the "least of these," their sin was as great as if they'd failed to visit Christ himself.

If you're a Christian, answer me this: If you died today and met St. Peter at the pearly gates, and he said you can enter depending on the answer to just one question: When Christ was in prison, did you visit him? Would you get in?

If you would have to honestly answer "No," maybe you should consider volunteering for CRJMA.


Anonymous said...

Recidivism is failure of the system. Rather than be rewarded for failure with more money for more prison capacity, it should work the other way around: the system gets dinged for each failure, and each ding knocks down the budget.

What we have is positive feedback -- in the engineering sense -- that errors are increased over time.

What we need is negative feedback, so that errors are diminished with time.

Ah, but this is just wishful thinking, because the wrong kind of people are in charge and they're not going to let go.

Anonymous said...

Wow - what a question! I consider myself a devout Christian, I'm often at church twice a week.... But honestly, no, if that were the ONLY question asked I wouldn't get in, I'm embarassed to admit. I doubt most Christians I know would, either.

This group is truly doing the Lord's work. Thanks for telling us about them.

Anonymous said...

Grits, you said that you dont see anyone else but Christian faith groups offering to work with TDCJ. I have to say, it's incredibly difficult for other faiths to get their feet in the doors of TDCJ to do similar work. Heathen groups do a lot of outreach work in other states, but in Texas even the basics are frowned upon by the system. Parole is geared up to accept more readily those inmates who have taken the prescribed Christian programmes, and if those of other faiths decline, their chance of parole is deminished.

Anonymous said...

Crime destroys relationships. The criminal's relationship with society, the family, the children.

Prison is nothing more than an institutional "time out". Historically there has never been a desire to repair the destroyed relationships.

TDCJ is conciously sectarian. Any suggestions to the contrary are misinformed.

Nothing will change until each individual has a change of heart. The mentor can only coach that change. The mentor can only model successful living.

Anonymous said...

Uh, I'd go with the "time out" theory if some people didn't get 40 years plus for drugs, etc. That's not a time out, that's a cruel and unusual deprivation of liberty for a small offense.

John Henson said...

You are making a preacher sweat. Convicting thought about the least of these! I know folks who are involved in the Exodus ministry and it is a great first step for these folks.