Prison Door to Freedom
I have been in and out of prison 13 times in the past year. I learned a very important word for prisoners: DOOR.
On one side of the DOOR, the men are held captive and confined. Activities and hours are regulated. And then there is the stress and danger. Most inmates are looking forward to the day they walk through the DOOR from “the yard to the streets.” As they get closer to the day of the DOOR, their hopes rise for a better future.
Waiting on the other side of the DOOR is freedom to receive once again “the endowment by their Creator of certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But what happens if they mess up? What if there are no family members or friends to receive them? What if they suffer from physical and/or mental illness and/or disabilities? What if they have little or no money, no place to stay and no transportation? Finally, can they get a job quickly so they can start earning the money needed to support themselves and their families? The DOOR can lead to success or failure. Fear rises along with hope.
The DOOR swings both ways.
In and out. Out and in. For one of every two inmates getting out, it’s a revolving DOOR. In a 2005-2010 study of prisoners released, 49.7% had either a parole or probation violation or an arrest for a new offense within three years that led to imprisonment again.
Yesterday, I sat with one of the inmates who is leading a Crossroads Career course in his prison. We talked about his first possible opportunity for parole, for which he just mailed his package making the case for his release. Excitement and anxiety build.
Over the past year, the prisoner and church teams worked together brainstorming a two-year job readiness program. The first year is inside the DOOR, training men for life skills for the outside, including preparation for finding jobs, careers and God’s calling. Last fall, we trained an inmate team using Crossroads Career Work Book and ministry resources. Now, the inmate teaching team is training others for release and job readiness.
In the meantime, our church career ministry team has been developing the second year of job readiness training and support outside the DOOR. We have found great partners in a nearby community, principally a Career-One Stop Center, Goodwill Job Connection and Good Works Staffing, and local community ministries, all of which are equipped to support, train and/or connect newly released men with employers and jobs. Teamwork can make the dream work.
Freedom in Prison.
"It is for freedom that Christ set us free" (Galatians 5:1). That is what we teach and preach in prison. The very first PowerPoint slide of every presentation we made last fall in preparing inmate trainers was “Your Hope and Future.” It featured a graphic of most people’s five highest-felt needs with everyone’s real need for Jesus circled in the middle.
True freedom comes from above to work inside of us, whether we are in prison or out. In fact, we are all prisoners to sin and death as long as we are without Jesus our Savior. During that first visit a year ago, I heard one of the inmates confess that in prison, he finally found freedom.