Reentry: The Next Step in Prison Ministry

Sep 11, 2016

by Rev. Wayne Gallipo, PCA Board Member

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” Matthew 25:4-36 NRSV

Let me tell you a true story about the challenges of a returning citizen I was recently helping.  He was 70 years old, in ill health, and had just been released after nearly two decades behind bars.  His family and friends had broken their relationship with him so he was on his own and had nothing.  He was anxious and afraid.  When he was released from prison he had a gate check for $50.00 and a box that contained things from his cell. He wore the only civilian clothes he owned.

Most people think that prisoners are looking forward to and excited for the day they will be released. Surprisingly for those of us who have never been a prisoner quite often the opposite is true; there is a great deal of fear and anxiety involved with being released because of the unknowns of life on the outside.  When this man was released he had nowhere to go, nobody to give him a ride and no idea what the future had in store for him.

With no ID or bank account he wondered how he would cash his $50.00 gate check.  Imagine knowing that $50.00 was the sum total of the money available for you to live on.  He walked to a convenience store and they said they would cash it if he purchased something so he decided to buy a bottle of Dr. Pepper.  This is when he began to encounter the changes in the world that had happened while he was in prison.  The lady at the till rang up his purchase and he looked up to see the bottle of Dr. Pepper cost $1.69.  He said, “ I’m not buying a 6 pack!”  She chuckled and gave him his change.  He told me before he went into prison he could buy a 6 pack of pop for less than what that one bottle was costing him now!  Knowing he had not had a decent meal in many years I took him to Perkins for supper and his eyes nearly came out of his head when he opened the menu; partly because of the variety of food that he was now free to choose from but mostly because of the cost!  These are but a few of the challenges a returning citizen faces when they are released from prison.

With no where to go and nobody to help him the prison did make arrangements for him to live in a local hotel for a month.  He ate hot dogs on bread rather than buns because bread was cheaper than buns.  This was breakfast, lunch and dinner for him.  He has no idea what the future holds for him or how he will make it on the outside.  He needs a loving, concerned Christian community to provide him with support, mentoring and education.

During worship at St. Dysmas Lutheran Church inside the walls of the South Dakota State Penitentiary I happened to sit next to a man who told me he was being released soon.  I asked him how he felt about that and his immediate response was that he was scared!  Scared because he has no idea how he will make it on the outside.  He too needs a loving community to surround him with love and support; to live out the words of Jesus in Matthew 25.

Reentry programs are a vital component to a returning citizen’s successful reintegration into society.  By involving yourself in a reentry program you express the love of Christ to a person who desperately needs to experience that love.  Returning citizens need rides to various appointments until they can figure out their own transportation.  They need someone to talk to.  Someone to call when they are stressed.  They need help with finding employment, a place to live, finding a place of worship and a healthy group of people who will love them and welcome them.  If you are feeling the call to become involved in a reentry program already in existence or perhaps you are feeling called to begin a program PCA can provide you with information to help you answer God’s call.  Go to https://www.prisoncongregations.org/donate/  From the menu at the top click on “Resources” and in the drop down menu you will see “Reentry”.

The work is challenging and rewarding.  Men and women released from prions who are involved in a reentry program have a much higher chance of not returning to prison.  One program I consulted reports an 85% success rate!  It also relieves some of the stress of being released to know that there will be a group of loving, welcoming people waiting for you as you walk out of the prison who are ready to help you succeed.

If you don’t feel you are cut out to be on a reentry team please consider supporting a local reentry team with your financial gifts and prayer.  Please also consider supporting PCA with your financial gifts so they can continue go about the vital business of planting congregations in prisons and to be a resource for those who would like to be involved in prison ministry.   To support the powerful ministry of Prison Congregations of American go to their web site https://www.prisoncongregations.org/donate/  and click on the “Donate” tab. 

Reentry programs are a wonderful opportunity for faith communities to make a huge difference in the life of a person leaving prison.  You help alleviate their anxiety about leaving, you provide them with a healthy loving community, you walk with them as they begin life again.  Prison Congregations of America has resources to help you in your efforts and are anxious to provide you with help and encouragement in your reentry ministry. 

God bless you as you serve the anxious, the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the jobless, and those who were once imprisoned and facing new challenges as they work to overcome obstacles in their way as they begin life again.



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Category: mission

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