Off to prison (ministry)

Matthew 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

I’ll be volunteering at a Kairos Ministry weekend at a Texas prison next month.   It is sort of like a Walk to Emmaus or Cursillo event for prisoners. 

Well-organized and well-trained volunteer teams of men and women from the communities surrounding an institution present an introductory 3-day weekend, described as a short course in Christianity.  This inter-denominational team of volunteers — both clergy and laypersons — works in cooperation with the Chaplain who carefully selects up to 42 inmate leaders to attend.  A well-organized follow up program is part of this ministry. 

There is a huge benefit to society for this program.  The recidivism rate is inverted for those who go through the program.  Instead of 80+% of the inmates returning to jail within three years of their release, less than 30% of those attending just the weekend program do so and less than 10% do for those who attend the program and follow up sessions. 

My first though upon hearing those statistics is that perhaps they were cherry-picking inmates who were more likely to go straight anyway.  But that isn’t the case.  They “rotten cherry pick,” so to speak, and try to bring in negative leaders as well as positive from the prison population, including those that appear to be unlovable.  They know that if the leaders are changed it can have a huge impact on the rest of the population. 

The training is very thorough and well done so you can be equipped to make a difference and not cause problems.  The rules are taken quite seriously.  For example, accidentally taking a mobile phone in the jail is a federal offense.  There are strict guidelines on what can be brought in.  Apparently these fellows are quite creative and can make alcohol or drugs from just about anything. 

Several friends from church are passionate about this ministry, so I have been eager to give it a try.  I talked to several ex-convicts when doing volunteer counseling at CareNet Pregnancy centers and enjoyed getting to know them and encouraging them with the Gospel message. 

Some people may initially balk at this ministry because of a traditional “Lock ’em up and throw away the key” attitude.  But Kairos isn’t soft on criminal justice.  It doesn’t advocate for the prisoners, it just advocates for Christ. 

The church reaches out to these inmates with Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness.  Many of the people we encounter on the outside of these jails just have one difference with the inmates: They didn’t get caught.  Yet. 

I’ll be an assistant table leader, helping facilitate discussions after various talks.  I’ll be giving a talk on how to develop your relationship with God.  I’ll also be playing guitar with the music team.

There are all kinds of special things done for the inmates to help them know that people still care, and there are many powerful exercises they go through during the weekend.  There are monthly follow up visits as well. 

This is an ecumenical (non-denominational) organization – in the good way (unashamedly united on the essentials of the faith and that Jesus is the way), not the bad way (watered down theology). 

Please pray for the whole team and the 42 inmates we’ll be serving.  I’ll follow up with more information as I go through the process.

Also see Kairos of Texas.

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