Growing Old Behind Bars

By Zoe Erler | Posted August 31, 2015

IMG_1911When many Americans enter their 50s and 60s, they start looking toward retirement—that season of life when there is freedom to travel, spend extra time with the grandkids, or devote more hours to volunteering or pursuing a dream. But for those growing older behind bars, the graying years don’t look much different than all the rest—just that they are spent with increased dependency and cost to the prison system.

According to the National Institute of Corrections, people in prison are more likely to age faster than the regular population because of unhealthy lifestyles before and during their sentence. Because of this, a prisoner 50 or older is deemed “elderly.” And the number of those in this demographic is quickly increasing, due in part to tough-on-sentencing legislation enacted in the 80s and 90s.

In 2012, a report put out by the ACLU counted 246,600 elderly in America’s prisons. Because of increased health care needs, the added cost to care for an aging prisoner can be twice as much—around $68,000 a year. In North Carolina, for example, the DOC spent more than $33 million just on health care for its declining population. These numbers will only increase in the coming years, as by 2030 it is estimated that one-third of the prison population will fall into this 50+ age bracket.

The question begs to be asked: How valuable is it for America to keep the elderly incarcerated behind bars? (more…)

A Foretaste of Heaven

By Steve Rempe | Posted August 31, 2015

Liske_154We were being watched.

At a worship service behind bars, I was sitting among some men that I remembered from a previous visit. I was jarred out of the music by the realization that officers armed with rifles were standing watch in “guard shacks” that extended from the walls of the auditorium.

Earlier that morning, as I was coming through security, I learned that two officers had been involved in an accident. One had been killed, and the other was in critical condition. For this reason the atmosphere of this prison, never a joyful place, was particularly sorrowful and oppressive. The officers were shaken and grieved. As I got up to the podium to speak, the Spirit moved me to pray for the officers. I asked the prisoners to pray with me. We extended our hands toward the armed men in the guard shacks, as representatives of all the officers at the prison. We prayed for hope for the deceased officer’s family and healing for the man in the hospital.

It was one of the most powerful, unifying experiences I have had in prison. The wall between officers and prisoners came down for a sweet, brief period. It was a little foretaste of heaven.

Paul writes that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, NIV). I might add that in Jesus, there is no distinction between those wearing jumpsuits, those wearing the uniforms of officers, and those in the clothing of volunteers. We are all in need of God’s grace and all called to share it with one another. To learn how you can be part of building this movement of Christians united to restore all those affected by crime and incarceration, visit today.

Not Like the Movies

By Steve Rempe | Posted August 27, 2015

It sounds like the setup for a new action film.  Early in the morning on August 11, a bus transporting 50 prisoners from a worksite crashed into an overturned semi trailer on a remote Arizona freeway.  The bus careened into the road median, the driver seriously hurt.

“Everybody’s seen the movies,” Sgt. Josh Wilhelm of the Arizona Department of Public Safety told the press.  “I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m gonna have inmates scatter and we’re gonna have 50 fugitives.”

But the men on the bus must not have read the script.

Instead of disappearing into the Sonoran Desert, the uninjured prisoners opted stick around to tend to the wounded, 20 of whom were fellow prisoners, and even helped direct traffic until help could arrive.  When the highway patrol arrived, all the bus passengers were present and accounted for.

“It’s always heartwarming to see anyone jump in when assistance is needed,” Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said in an interview with the Huffington Post.  “I think the programming, the work, the education, all the different opportunities we provide—hopefully it sinks in.”


Will You Write a Letter to the Pope?

By Craig DeRoche | Posted August 27, 2015

In the very first month in his official capacity, Pope Francis made a landmark visit to a juvenile detention facility where he washed and kissed the feet of youth. During his upcoming visit to the U.S., he will be visiting a prison again, this time in Philadelphia. Right before that–on Sept. 24–he will give an address to Congress. Wouldn’t it be amazing if he preached restorative justice to our representatives and senators?

Many members of Congress have been pushing for reform of the criminal justice system, and the federal prison system in particular. For example, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act has been introduced; it would help continue funding of reentry programs for people returning home from prison. The House and Senate Judiciary chairmen have also indicated plans to introduce legislation addressing federal sentencing and prison programs. This growing momentum is exciting, but we’ve yet to see a comprehensive criminal justice bill pass through to President Obama’s desk. The pope’s address is a key opportunity for members of Congress to hear why they should act on criminal justice legislation that respects victims, transforms people with criminal records, and makes communities safer.

Will you urge the pope to include criminal justice reform in his address to Congress? Please click here to write and send a simple letter asking the pope to include criminal justice reform in his address and telling him why it matters to you, your family, and your community that Congress pass reform that supports restorative justice. If you submit your letter by Monday, Aug. 31 at midnight, I’ll make sure it’s delivered to the pope prior to his address.

Thanks so much!

Standing for the Dignity of Prisoners

By Steve Rempe | Posted August 26, 2015

An 1865 engraving of the Baltimore City Jail. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan recently closed the prison for its unsanitary conditions. (Click to enlarge.)

The Baltimore City Detention Facility has a well-earned reputation for being one of the worst jails in the United States.  Originally built in 1858, the facility has had a history of deplorable conditions—overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe.

“It not only is a disgrace,” the city’s Criminal Justice Commission president, C. Delano Ames, said in 1938, “but it is a sanitary menace, and a breeder of degeneracy, and if any considerable sum of money is spent in the future to renovate it, will be equivalent to pouring money down a rat-hole.”

Subsequent reconstruction projects have proven Mr. Ames prescient, as the conditions at the jail have not improved much since 1938.  In 2002, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division found the conditions to be a violation of the inmates constitutional rights.  A later class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union was settled in 2009, with the promise of needed reforms and improvements.

In June of 2015, the ACLU sought to reopen the case, claiming that the conditions of the settlement had not been met.  In the request document, attorneys for the ACLU cited the presence of vermin, insects, and mold as evidence of the continuing unsanitary conditions of the facility, even noting the lack of working toilets or sinks in parts of the prison for multiple days.

All of this history has now prompted Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to shut down the detention center, transferring the remaining prisoners to other more modern facilities across the state.


How to Really Get Tough on Crime

By Jake Grant | Posted August 25, 2015

Jake Grant is an intern working with Justice Fellowship, the policy arm of Prison Fellowship.  A version of this post appears on the Justice Fellowship website.

Five years ago, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010. The law lowered sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine and eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession of crack cocaine.

When the FSA passed, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was to report to Congress five years later their findings on the law’s impact. Five years have now passed and the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently released a report on the results.

At a time when Congressional talks on criminal justice reform are ramping up, some of the most avid backers of these “tough on crime” sentencing laws are starting to refine their viewpoints. People on both sides of the political spectrum are starting to come together and talk about the need to reconsider lengthy sentencing, particularly for non-violent drug offenses.

Had the new evidence shown that reducing drug sentences resulted in increased crime rates and recidivism, as some opponents argue, it is likely that these talks would have stalled. What the commission found with respect to FSA outcomes, however, is likely to disappoint the reform critics.


Let’s Hurry

By Jim Liske | Posted August 24, 2015

Liske_154Roberto and I had never met before, but neither that—nor the prison regulations against physical contact with visitors—kept him from giving me a bone-crushing hug.

“I’m so thankful you are here,” Roberto said, towering over me while a grin stretched across his face. “I want to help!”

I soon found out that my new friend has “been with Prison Fellowship” much longer than I have. Roberto led a very violent life before becoming incarcerated. But while he was serving time in Iowa, he met Jesus. He was discipled in a Prison Fellowship faith-based unit and became a leader in the church behind the walls there.

After serving his sentence in Iowa, Roberto was taken back to Illinois to do additional time. He is eager to know what Prison Fellowship programming might soon be available at his prison in Illinois. He wants to be a servant, helping to grow the Christian community right around him.

Too soon, Roberto had to go. Officers were taking the men back to their cell blocks. As he glanced over his shoulder, he said, “Please hurry. I’m ready to help!”

Roberto’s plea is one I hear echoed all over the country. Pastors and their churches want to help restore their communities that have been affected by crime and incarceration. Members of the Church behind the walls want tools to study God’s Word deeply and become ambassadors for Jesus in prison. Legislators and corrections leaders of goodwill want to build a truly restorative criminal justice system.

With the support of countless friends like you, it is our privilege to equip and convene diverse groups united by the desire to bring restoration—including prisoners like Roberto. They are ready to help. Let’s hurry.

Finding Purpose Amidst the Flames

By Steve Rempe | Posted August 20, 2015
iStockPhoto: byronsdad

iStockPhoto: byronsdad

As the wildfires raging through much of California continue to stretch the abilities and resources of professional firefighters, assistance is coming from an unexpected source—men in the California corrections system.

Nearly 4,000 prisoners have joined forces with roughly 6,000 firefighting professionals in an attempt to tame the fires that have burned 117,960 acres so far, and threaten thousands of homes and businesses.  Working for about $2 a day, the prisoners are, in the words of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Bil Sessa, “in the thick of it, cutting fire lines and helping to save large areas of California.”

Jacques D’Elia served as a member of a similar fire brigade, fighting fires in the Mendocino National Forest for nearly three years between 2011 and 2013.  Since released, he reflects on the time spent in a “fire camp” in an interiew with the Marshall Project.

“It was so physically demanding—but I have to say, it was an honor, a privilege, and a gift to be doing it,” D’Elia says.  “Every day, we wanted to prove we were better than the professional firefighters who were there. And it made me understand how much good I could do and how proud of myself I could be at the end of the day, which never happened in prison.”

“I almost forgot I was incarcerated sometimes,” he adds.  ” The staff treated you like a human, not a number.”


A Letter of Thanks

By Steve Rempe | Posted August 20, 2015
(Click on letter to view larger image.)

(Click on letter to view larger image.)

“My name is Carlos,” the letter begins.  “I am 44 years old, a husband and father who is incarcerated, and has been for going on 9 years.”

Carlos is one of thousands of men and women who have been a part of Prison Fellowship’s in-prison programs.  And he wants to thank everyone who has played a role in ministering to him and his fellow prisoners.

“I write to first thank your ministry and all those who work for, volunteer, and support Prison Fellowship for all that they do for people like me,” Carlos says. He recalls meeting Patty Colson, the widow of Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, when she visited the prison, and being inspired by her words.  “An echo of her husband’s life-long vision,” he says. “I just want to thank you and her for all you do,” Carlos concludes.  “Because your efforts have changed my life … they have changed me.”

Prison Fellowship couldn’t change lives like Carlos’ without the help of the many tireless volunteers and generous supporters who make this ministry work.  To everyone who has contributed their time, their prayers, or their resources to serving prisoners and their families, we join with Carlos in offering you our sincere thanks.  And if you would like to learn more about ways to contribute or get involved with Prison Fellowship, please visit our Get Involved page.

Having an Impact

By Steve Rempe | Posted August 18, 2015

When Ann Lownin first considered volunteering with Prison Fellowship, she admits to being a little nervous.

“At first I thought it was going to be intimidating, but it is not intimidating at all,” Lowin says.  “It is so rewarding, and I have met some of the most special people.”

Lownin has been volunteering with Prison Fellowship and Angel Tree for nearly seven years.  It has been, she says, time well spent.

“I started out as an Angel Tree volunteer with my church in The Woodlands, Texas,” she recalls.  “I’ve got to meet families, and I’ve really seen the way that incarceration affects every family.”


Prison Fellowship is a 501(c)(3) organization   •   44180 Riverside Parkway, Lansdowne, VA 20176   •   (877) 478-0100   •   Privacy Policy   •   Copyright © 2015