Liz Stanosheck worked for the Nebraska Department of Corrections for 20 years. During that time, she wished there were more programs for incarcerated women in the state.
Now as an area director for Prison Fellowship Nebraska, Liz is working to change this—bringing more programs to the female prisoners she works with.
Earlier this month, Liz coordinated with the DOC and Women of Faith to take 43 prisoners to Lincoln for Women of Faith’s “From Survival to Revival,” a conference about making it through the hard times in life.
A version of this article originally appeared on the National Fatherhood Initiative website, and is used here with permission. To learn more about the National Fatherhood Initiative, visit www.fatherhood.org.
There are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail. Ninety-five percent(95%) of all inmates will eventually be released. Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents in prison are fathers. Most—2 out of 3 inmates—will reoffend and be back in prison.
When it comes to fatherhood and prison, we are locking too many dads in jail with little to no help. The fathers behind bars are not connecting with their families from behind prison walls or upon release. These dads need help. They need our help or they are likely to reoffend.
The father absence crisis in America is real. When we talk about father absence, we mention the U.S. Census Bureau’s statistic that 24 million children—one out of three—live without their dad in the home. Over 13,000 of you have viewed The Father Absence Crisis in America. We received lots of feedback on that post. Some readers said, “Great, now we know the problem; what’s the solution?”
A few months ago, the editors at Real Simple asked our very own Jim Liske to share his take on the virtue of compassion with their eight million readers. In the November issue, now on newsstands, Prison Fellowship‘s president and CEO voices the importance of caring for prisoners and their families.
The article, “5 Small Ways to Show Compassion,” features the wise words of five diverse leaders who each share their best tip for expressing compassion. Jim’s advice is “see yourself in them.” He briefly recounts the personal story of his nephew’s incarceration–an encounter that provided him with a new sense of empathy for families struggling with situations like his. Once we recognize that any of us could be facing similar challenges, it becomes easier to extend compassion to others in the same way God has extended grace to us.
With more than two million Americans behind bars, every community is home to families in need of our support as they face the challenges associated with incarceration. In the article, Jim mentions a couple ways we can reach out in compassion to prisoners and their families: by coming alongside children who are growing up while their parents are incarcerated or advocating for legislation that supports restorative justice and promotes beneficial in-prison programming.
As the holiday season approaches, we hope these ideas will spur Real Simple readers to put their compassion in action!
You can read the full article featuring Jim on realsimple.com.
When Israel was almost overcome by surrounding nations, Gideon and his 300 men encircled the enemy camp with torches hidden inside of earthenware jars. On a signal, they broke their jars, began to yell, and let their torches shine forth. The enemy army, convinced they were about to be attacked by a superior force, fled in confusion (Judges 7).
In a similar way, the restoration of hurting communities starts with brokenness. When He wants to bring healing, God does a surprising thing: He calls broken people to come help. In particular, we’ve discovered that He calls prisoners and ex-prisoners, who have experienced firsthand the pain of addiction, violence, and futile thinking, to come to the rescue of those still trapped in the same cycle. As those broken people show up, light shines forth, and the powers of darkness flee!
Across the country, Prison Fellowship Ministries offers seminary-level Christian leadership training and faith-based reentry opportunities to men and women behind bars, so that when they are released from prison, they are ready to shine the light of Christ in their communities and rout the Enemy. Hundreds are in training right now to continue the work of restoration in their neighborhoods!
God uses broken people like me and you, too. Have you considered volunteering to work with prisoners, families, or legislators, but wondered whether you were qualified enough? Right now, we need volunteer leaders whom God is calling to lead ministry in their states. We need advocates who will call their legislators to speak up for restorative justice. We need churches who will seek out children and families on the margins of life. Don’t let fear hold you back—that’s where the light and love of Christ can come pouring through. That’s where restoration starts.
A version of the following story will be featured in an upcoming Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s quarterly newspaper for prisoners. If you would like to view past issues of Inside Journal, or would like to contribute to providing this resource for men and women behind bars, click here.
Jorge Garcia was just 13 years old his first time in a juvenile detention facility. For him, it was a badge of honor.
“It made me think I was cool,” says Jorge. “But I was only a kid. I didn’t know where all this was going to take me.”
Jorge was born in Mexico but immigrated to San Diego with his family when he was 11. “I found out that it was a different language, a different culture,” he remembers.
Dr. Jeffrey Russell loves helping others.
Every Friday he drives into Tulsa, Oklahoma, to serve dinner and teach a class in Christian doctrine to the homeless and incarcerated.
Russell has been a chiropractor in nearby Sand Springs since 1995, and he sees his profession as another way to help people. After a chiropractor helped him heal from a high school wrestling injury, Russell decided he wanted to do the same for others.
This past winter, Russell connected with another group of people who needed his help: the 2.7 million children in America with an incarcerated parent. These children often feel confused and alone because of their parents’ mistakes. They are five times more likely to live in poverty than other children, and they’re also at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems, such as depression and drug use.
Last Christmas, Russell had the opportunity to share with some of these kids that their futures aren’t set in stone by their parents’ choices. They can thrive in life despite their situations because their Heavenly Father walks beside them.
An Invitation to Help
For Russell, the door to this ministry opened in November 2013 when he started talking with a patient—the husband of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Program Specialist Mary Hamelin.
Mary and her husband shared with Russell what the Angel Tree program is all about: It’s a national outreach by local church congregations who deliver the Gospel message and Christmas gifts to children in the name of their incarcerated parents.
Russell wanted to help. He presented the ministry to Pastor Steve Bookout at his church, Prattwood Assembly of God in Sand Springs. Russell explained the outreach would be an immediate blessing to the children and would also connect Prattwood Assembly with parents and grandparents for fellowship and a way to witness.
Bookout loved the idea of getting his congregation involved in Angel Tree. With Christmas just around the corner, time would be a challenge.
I lost a good friend this week. He was killed in a tragic roadside accident, leaving behind his wife and three daughters. I was with his family at the hospital as they said their final good-byes and went home without him.
On my own way home, I remembered that he was only two years older than I am. Just 54 years old, and his life of earthly service to Jesus is over.
What if I only have two more years?
The answer? I will seek God in the midst of trial and triumph. I will love my family with all that God has given me. I will run to the hurting with the healing hope of Jesus. I will share grace and truth no matter what. I will seek out the broken people of this world behind prison walls, and deliver the restorative message of the One who saves us and gives each day on earth meaning. I will love, live, and serve each day as it might be my last.
What if you only had two years to live? Where would you put your time and your resources? In whom would you invest? If you’ve wanted to make ministry to prisoners and their families a part of your earthly service to Jesus, or if you’ve wanted to deepen your commitment, I challenge you to take the first step today. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
Answers aren’t always easy to find in prison.
Behind bars, where people search for something to give them purpose and a sense of belonging, many religions and sects peddle their beliefs. In some units, where prisoners have no access to chapel services or other special events, the Truth can be even harder to spot.
Thankfully, for prisoners in more than 700 facilities, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal newspaper proclaims the Gospel through relevant, inspirational articles, distributed by chaplains and volunteers.
On prison visits, volunteers like Dave pass them out to prisoners hungry for answers. One man, who was especially touched by the articles he read, wrote this letter:
“I was lying on my bunk and this old man came up to my cell door and asked me if I wanted something to read. I got up and started talking to him, and my heart went out to this man in his 80′s named Dave. He slid the Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s newspaper for America’s prisons, Volume 23, No. 2, Spring 2014 under my cell door and told me, ‘You read that and you will find some answers.’ I read that newspaper three times and was touched emotionally by all of the articles.”
As you partner with us, we’re sending Inside Journal to more and more prisons, inviting men and women to know the freedom Christ offers behind bars. To learn more, or to order bulk shipments for a prison where you minister as a volunteer, visit: http://www.prisonfellowship.org/resources/prison-ministry/inside-journal-archives/.
On Tuesday, the case of Holt vs. Hobbs went before the Supreme Court.
The case is brought by Gregory Holt, who is incarcerated in Arkansas and desires to grow a beard in accordance with his Muslim faith. Prison policy in Arkansas prohibits beards for security reasons. Holt is challenging this prohibition under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law that Prison Fellowship‘s founder, Chuck Colson, worked to pass.
Prison Fellowship has always believed that freedom of religion is a God-given right, and that men and women made in God’s image don’t forfeit that right upon conviction of a crime. That’s why Prison Fellowship submitted an amicus brief in support of Holt’s right to religious freedom as established in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has until summer 2015 to issue its opinion on the case.
By enacting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000, Congress decided that the ability of prisoners to exercise religious freedom was more important than any burden this freedom may place on prison employees. How the Supreme Court interprets Holt vs. Hobbs will determine more broadly the ways prisoners are allowed to express their religion, such as through faith-based programs and in-prison ministry activities.
Johnson’s article states, “… because faith-based prison ministries are an attractive, efficacious, and cost-effective means of reducing criminal recidivism, the legal issue is of enormous importance to all Americans – regardless of religious belief or disbelief.”
Johnson goes on to support the importance and success of faith-based programs by citing the results of studies done on Prison Fellowship’s in-prison ministry programs in New York, Texas, and Minnesota.
When seeking to improve the effectiveness of our current prison systems here in the United States, it is important to recognize the humanity of those behind bars. So says Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske in a recent op-ed article for the Huffington Post.
“We can help create more success stories—and safer communities—through policies that respect the human dignity of each life,” Liske says, “recognizing that ‘criminals’ are not a monolithic group of monsters. They are people, capable of choosing to change and contribute.”
Respecting that dignity begins at the time of trial. Liske suggests increasing the use of alternative courts—drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts—as a way of being cognizant of the needs of those the traditional justice system is ill-equipped to serve
Once in the prison system, Liske proposes a re-emphasis on rehabilitation, as opposed to simply warehousing prisoners before release. He notes the importance of volunteer organizations (like Prison Fellowship) that provide effective programming at no cost to taxpayers by focusing on the underlying causes of criminal behavior. He also commends prison officials, like Angola Prison’s Warden Burl Cain, who think outside the box in creating an environment conducive to the transformation of those incarcerated.
Finally, Liske emphasizes the importance of supporting those reentering society from prison. One key way to provide such support would be through passing the Second Chance Reauthorization Act currently being considered by Congress. The act would extend partnerships between state and local governments and non-governmental organizations to help provide programs designed to reduce recidivism and give these newly released citizens the opportunities needed to be successful.
“[T]here is no freedom without respect for the dignity of each human being,” Liske concludes. “It’s time for that respect to be enshrined in the criminal justice system, for all our sakes.”
Prison Fellowship understands the importance recognizing prisoners as human beings, created and loved by God, and capable of being transformed. And Prison Fellowship volunteers play a great role in helping to bring that transformation to fruition. To learn how you can be a part of the change taking place in the lives of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved.