You Came Unto Me
A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
. . .To open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. (Isaiah 42:7)
∙ Identify common needs of ex-offenders.
∙ Describe types of post-prison ministries.
∙ List steps for starting a post-prison ministry.
∙ Determine your role in post-prison ministry.
Some prisoners are released after serving their entire sentence as prescribed by law. In some legal jurisdictions, after completing part of their sentence, prisoners are eligible to go before a parole board. If granted parole before finishing their sentence, they are released with certain conditions, such as reporting regularly, not associating with ex-felons, and restrictions governing living and working arrangements. Conditions for release vary and are usually set by the court, a parole board, or a parole officer.
Inmates being released from prison have many needs as they reenter society. This chapter will help you identify these needs, understand various types of post-prison ministries, and define your role in ministering to ex-offenders.
THE NEEDS OF THE EX-OFFENDER
Some inmates are blessed to be returning to supportive families or churches upon release from prison, but if they do not have such a support network then post-prison ministry is very important. Each person is different and has unique needs, but here are some common needs most ex-offenders share upon discharge from an institution.
∙ He needs to be accepted in a local church that is nurturing and supportive so he can develop spiritually. Invite him/her to go to church with you. Sit with them and invite them to have a meal or snack with you after service.
∙ He needs housing, food, and clothing. Inmates who have no “street clothes” sometimes need a “parole box”--a box containing clothes, underwear, and shoes that he can wear when he leaves the institution grounds.
∙ He needs vocational training and/or a job.
∙ He may need financial counseling (basics of budgeting, maintaining personal finances, etc.) A special note: Don't give financial help personally to an ex-offender. It is better that financial assistance be channeled through your church or the administrators of a post-prison program.
∙ Family counseling is important if he is trying to reunite his family.
∙ He may need additional personal counseling for addictions like drugs and alcohol. Believers who have made a commitment to Christ may find addictive temptations one of their first spiritual battles on the outside.
∙ If he has been incarcerated for a long time, he may need assistance with even simple decisions because inmates have very limited options for making decisions in prison.
∙ He needs a strong support network of friends who will love and accept him, pray for and with him, and help him work through problems.
In addition, find out as much as possible about the inmate before release. This knowledge will assist in post-prison ministry. Determine his job skills and educational level. Find out where he is paroling to (sometimes it is required that an inmate go to a certain geographic location). Discuss plans with the chaplain and the appropriate institution authorities before you speak to the inmate about it. Do not promise anything if you cannot follow through on it.
There are different types of post-prison ministries which you may want to start and/or to which an inmate can be referred:
∙ A Christian “half way house.” This is a group home for ex-offenders and is called “half-way” because it is a transition between prison and getting back into normal society. This type of ministry usually provides housing, food, counseling, and job placement assistance to its residents. Participants may remain there for a set time dictated by authorities or until they find employment and housing. Some group homes have a discipleship program and participants are required to complete the program before moving out on their own. If you start a half-way house, it is important that you have strict rules concerning drugs, alcohol, curfews, and other general behavior standards.
∙ The local rescue mission: Some cities operate rescue missions that accept ex-offenders into their discipleship and vocational programs.
∙ Government or privately operated programs: Some areas have government or privately operated programs to help ex-offenders be integrated back into society. These may include group homes, vocational counseling, and other assistance.
∙ Church based programs: A local church may choose to start an ex-offenders group, offering assistance in housing, counseling, and job placement. Business owners in the church may be recruited to give an ex-felon a job. One church opened a fast-food restaurant that was run entirely by born-again ex-felons.
∙ Christian colleges and Bible schools: Some offer scholarships, room, and board to promising ex-felons. If you are an administrator of a Christian college or Bible school, this would be a tremendous post-prison ministry to offer.
STARTING A POST PRISON MINISTRY
Here are five steps for starting a post-prison ministry:
STEP ONE: Pray
All things are fueled by prayer. Pray about what God would have you do in the area of post-prison ministries.
STEP TWO: Consult your spiritual leader
If you are a pastor, consult with your board. If you are a church member, talk with your pastor. This is important for several reasons:
∙ It is common courtesy.
∙ Spiritual leaders can guide and provide valuable input to you.
∙ Your spiritual leader may already have plans underway for such a ministry.
If so, be part of it, don’t undermine it.
STEP THREE: Do an analysis
Here are some questions to answer in your analysis:
∙ Are there any local post-prison ministries? If so, what are they? (You may want to become part of a post-prison ministry already in existence.)
∙ What needs exist in your community in regards to post-prison resources?
∙ What needs can you and/or your church fill? (Try not to duplicate efforts of other Christian organizations. We should complement, not compete with one another.)
STEP FOUR: Visit a similar ministry
If you decide to start a post-prison ministry, visit a similar ministry that exists elsewhere. Learn from their successes and failures.
STEP FIVE: Determine organizational issues
Here are some organizational issues to determine:
∙ Funding: Post-prison ministries need financial resources. Determine how funds will be secured and develop an operating budget.
∙ Facilities: What type of facility is needed? Where will it be located? Can you get required approvals by the local government to locate the facility in the area you are considering?
∙ Staffing: Who will run the post-prison ministry? What are the necessary qualifications? Will the positions be paid or volunteer?
DETERMINING YOUR ROLE
What will your role be in post-prison ministry? It depends on the answer to the following questions:
∙ 1. What is permitted by the institution in which you minister? Some institutions prohibit volunteers who minister inside the prison from working with inmates after their release. They reason that should the inmate return to prison, they might be too familiar with the volunteer or be shown special favors because of their relationship outside the institution.
∙ 2. Where are you most effective? Are you more effective ministering to inmates inside or upon release from prison? Where does your interest and vision lie? Which gives you the greatest joy and the greatest spiritual results?
∙ 3. What are your time and energy limitations? You can’t be everything to everyone. Due to personal time and energy restraints, you may need to confine yourself to ministering to inmates either inside or upon release, but not both.
If your institution does not permit your involvement with inmates upon release or you do not have the time or burden for post-prison ministries, then you will want to serve only as a referral agent. Make a list of churches, individuals, or para-church organizations involved in post-prison ministries and refer inmates to them.
Whatever your involvement, your role should be that of a friend and facilitator. Don’t become a crutch for the inmate. Be available, but don’t smother him/her. Encourage self-reliance.
SELF-TEST FOR CHAPTER NINE
1. Write the key verse from memory.
2. What are some of the common needs of ex-offenders discussed in this chapter?
3. List some types of post-prison ministries.
4. List the steps for starting a post-prison ministry.
5. What three questions should determine your role in post-prison ministry?
(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)
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