It has been 47 years since I was in prison to visit my favorite cousin, Chucky. We talked for about an hour. He was young, good looking and smart. After he got out, he went back to drugs and later threw himself off a bridge. The last time I saw him was in a photograph at his memorial service. I hoped I would never have to face such tragedy again.
Yesterday I Went to Prison Again
Our church has three campuses, one of which is in a men’s prison. Every week there is a live worship service with a video sermon in the chapel plus 11 study groups in dorms. Every day there are classes in which inmates teach inmates about character development, spiritual formation and life skills. Every month, there are baptisms for new believers.
But there is no job readiness program to help men transition from prison to society.
Yesterday, a couple of us from church went to learn from inmates what they want and need. The first hour we visited the chaplain and two inmate assistants. The next hour we met with a dozen study group leaders and learned about their backgrounds, challenges and hopes. The last two hours were spent with 15-20 inmate leaders, three of whom presented programs, classes and mentoring to prepare men for release. It was a great time of sharing, brainstorming and Q&A. We finished with a brief presentation of what we learned and a seven-step process to help them find jobs on the outside.
The Door from Yard to Street
Here is some of what I think I learned:
The number one thing most inmates want when they get out is a good job. Their number one need in and out of prison is Jesus. If they find Jesus and spiritual freedom in prison, then their chances of success on the outside increase.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm… Galatians 5:1
Programs and processes must offer not just relief, rehabilitation and development, but also regeneration with a faith-based, Christ-centered approach to their whole life that includes the high-five felt needs: family, friends, health, wealth and work.
Knowing Jesus, however, is no guarantee of a good job. It takes individual responsibility and discipline; training, resources and support; and employers who are willing to hire candidates with good prison records.
Employers are looking for candidates with character and competence to contribute to the mission and sustainability of their organizations. How great would it be to prepare inmates as good candidates for employers with good jobs?
Big Problem and Opportunity
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2011 – about 0.94% of adults in the U.S. resident population. In total, 6,977,700 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2011 – about 2.9% of adults in the U.S. resident population.
Nobody wants to be in prison, yet they keep coming back.
One study tracked 404,638 prisoners in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005. The researchers found that:
- Within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were rearrested.
- Within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6%) of released prisoners were rearrested.
- Of those prisoners who were rearrested, more than half (56.7%) were arrested by the end of the first year.
Will You Help?
Prison yards are dangerous places. Friends in community help inmates protect themselves. When inmates pass through the door to the streets of society, the risk is even greater. The temptation to return to the old life is alluring and seemingly, for some, the only option. A community needs to be prepared to receive them.
The church – the body of Christ – is the community best positioned and equipped to help prison inmates become society success stories because Christ followers are on both sides of the door from the yard to the streets.
If you are reading this article, and have experience and/or expertise in helping inmates through the door to jobs, careers and God’s calling, please comment and contact me by email.