Prison Fellowship

Forward Together

By Jim Liske | Posted July 18, 2013

Jim Liske_200x300My Prison Fellowship Racing teammates and I had to help one another get over an eight-foot wall just to get into the race orientation area. At the Tough Mudder challenge race in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last month, teamwork was key right from the beginning. Unlike a traditional race, where the speed of the individual is all that counts, we needed one other in order to scale walls, crawl through mud, and swim through icy water for eight grueling miles.

We undertook this significant challenge to raise money to support ministry to prisoners and their families. I was grateful just to get through the race without injury. But afterward, I found myself taking away many lessons – about community, teamwork, and unity – that apply more broadly to life and ministry.

Often in life, it’s easy to get focused on our own progress. How quickly can we get where we want to go? We can forget about what’s happening to people God has placed on our “team” in life. Are we there to help pick them up when they fall down? Are we willing to help boost them over significant obstacles?

Living on the margins, prisoners and their families are some of the easiest people to leave behind. But Jesus told us that the world would know we are His disciples because of our love for another, not because we get to the finish line first. The hallmark of our victory will be how good we are at lifting up our brothers and sisters, so that none get left behind.

Will you join our team as we run forward together? Learn how you can help lift up prisoners and their families at www.angeltree.org.

Proclaiming Redemption behind Bars

By Prison Fellowship | Posted July 17, 2013

As we enter a new fiscal year, we look back on one of the biggest moments of 2013 – God’s miraculous work behind bars at Easter!

Texas Easter Prison Visit (3)

Prison Fellowship President Garland Hunt prays with an inmate on Easter Sunday.

Over Easter weekend, Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske and Prison Fellowship President Garland Hunt shared the Gospel with prisoners in Florida and Texas. They delivered a message of hope and prayed with prisoners in the yard, in the infirmary, and in segregation, which is like solitary confinement.

“Segregated from the population,” says Garland Hunt. “But not segregated from God.”

In the solitude of his Texas prison cell, Marcus was studying the Bible on Easter Sunday.

Garland approached the bars to let him know that even in prison, the Lord cares about him. “Do you know the Lord?” Garland asked.

“Yes! And I’ve been studying a lot,” Marcus replied. He’s determined to make the most of his time in solitary confinement. And to prove it, he has a notebook filled with certificates from the Bible courses he’s taken.

As they talked, breakfast came on a beaten-up tray that was passed to Marcus through a small hole. Marcus set the food aside, more interested in talking with Garland than eating. Reaching through the bars, he grabbed ahold of Garland to pray.

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Three Generations of Eugenics

By Eric Metaxas | Posted July 15, 2013

The following commentary originally appeared on the Colson Center for Christian Worldview’s Breakpoint website.  For more more information about the work of the Colson Center, and how to subscribe to Eric Metaxas’ daily commentaries, visit www.breakpoint.org.

Improve the human race by eliminating the weak. That’s a key tenet of eugenics—a philosophy that is alive and well right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

The early 20th century saw hundreds of thousands of so-called “defective” Americans forcibly sterilized in the name of “improving” the human race. In one of the darkest chapters in its history, the Supreme Court sanctioned the process in Buck v. Bell, declaring that “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” Some people would say three generations of imbeciles on the Court is enough; of course, I would never say that.

Not surprisingly, the people deemed “imbeciles” were nothing of the kind. They were simply the most vulnerable people in their communities.

Thankfully, we’ve learned our lessons, and nothing like that can ever happen again. Right? Wrong!

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The Solution to Crime

By Jim Liske | Posted July 11, 2013

Jim_Liske_2_200x300There’s a solution to crime, and it’s been staring us in the face for a long time. It’s not more education. It’s not better economic policies or a police officer on every corner. Economics, legislation, and policing are all important, of course, and followers of Jesus should be working vigorously in every area to promote justice and peace, but none of those things will actually solve the problem of crime where it starts: in the human heart.

So what will? Prisoners.

When men and women get on the wrong side of the criminal justice system, crime, and incarceration lay waste to their lives, their families, and their communities. They are called “inmate.” They answer to a number. They are told over and over again that they have no potential, no value, and no hope. After they are released, they learn that society’s punishment lasts long after the sentence has ended. Not surprisingly, two-thirds are rearrested within a few years.

But what if, instead, the rehabilitation of prisoners started at the moment of arrest? What if the entire criminal justice system was geared toward restoring men and women to their God-given potential, so that they re-enter their community prepared to bring transformation to their homes and neighborhoods? Crime will stop when former criminals instead foster healing and peace.

That’s what Prison Fellowship is aiming for, and the new Welcome Back Pack project is one step in that direction. The packs equip newly released ex-prisoners with basic essentials and a Bible to meet their physical and spiritual needs. It’s a perfect way to communicate to ex-prisoners that they have a hope and future in Christ. Learn more today – and be part of the solution with us.

Sesame Street and the Children of Incarcerated Parents

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 9, 2013

The long-running PBS children’s show Sesame Street has added a new character.

On a recent show, Alex, a young boy, reveals to his friends that his father is in prison.  “All this talk about my dad and where he is got me really upset,” he tells them, “… [I’m upset] because of where he is … he’s in jail.”

The episode is a part of a larger program being produced called “Little Children, Big Challenges” which deals with the serious issues some children face.  The program includes a series of online tool kits for both parents and children dealing with adversity.

While creating a program specifically for children of inmates might appear to be targeted to a very narrow demographic, the reality is that 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison—or one in every 28 kids.  It’s an audience that has grown significantly in the last couple of decades, and one that shows no signs of receding.

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Frontlines: Vince

By Jim Liske | Posted July 8, 2013

Frontlines is a video series that brings you close to the work of Prison Fellowship through the lens of Prison Fellowship Ministries CEO Jim Liske’s encounters with the inmates and families. In the latest edition, Jim visits “Vince,” a new inmate at a detention center in Hawaii.

 

Fostering Creativity

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 2, 2013
Healing Walls, Inmate's Journey

“Healing Walls, an Inmate’s Journey” by Cesar Viveros-Herrera and Parris Stancell (Photo by Jack Ramsdale/Mural Arts Program)

How important is it for inmates to foster and develop artistic creativity behind bars?  In a recent article for philly.com, Stephanie Ogrodnik asserts that in-prison art, landscaping, and writing programs serve an important role in preparing inmates for release, changing the way they see the world around them, and even facilitating reconciliation between prisoners and victims.

“[T]here is great potential in reinforcing creativity behind prison walls,” says Ogrodnik.  “By channeling energy into productive behavior and encouraging a positive outlook through responsibility and accomplishment, dozens of programs nationwide have utilized artistic expression as a means for change and rehabilitation.”

Ogrodnik highlights several programs in Pennsylvania intended to develop creative expression and thinking.  One program in particular, the Mural Arts program in Philadelphia, has developed a Restorative Justice program that instructs current and former inmates on the finer points of mural painting, while allowing them to give a measure back to the community they once victimized.  On one specific project named “Healing Walls,” victim’s rights proponents and inmates painted side-by-side, and despite initial discomfort, learned to work together.  The result was a greater understanding and empathy for the other, as well as a measure of healing and reconciliation.

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Lawn Mowers, Go-Carts, and Restoration

By Jim Liske | Posted June 27, 2013

Jim Liske_200x300My father lived through the Great Depression. Like many men and women who experienced that period of want, he has a hard time throwing things away. He has sheds full of things he has saved, because “someone might need it someday.”

When my son Joshua was little, my dad took an old, broken-down lawn mower and turned it into a go-cart for him on his birthday. It only went about 25 mph, but my son felt like he was flying. That piece of junk had become priceless thanks to my father’s vision, love, and care.

My dad has a wise perspective that’s rare in our days: He knows that pieces of “junk” can be redeemed for new and wonderful purposes by those who have eyes to see their value. He realizes that burdens can be made into blessings.

In a culture where it’s often cheaper to buy new goods than it is to repair old ones, it’s tempting to transfer that idea to people, and “throw away” those who have transgressed against society. But God – who works all things together for good – is a master of the redemptive process, and by His grace we are invited to participate in it, recognizing the treasures hidden deep within “jars of clay.”

Will you help us unearth the treasure hidden in men and women who are behind bars? The results will be better than we could ever dream!

Serving the Mentally Ill behind Bars

By Steve Rempe | Posted June 26, 2013

On a broadcast of PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, PFM Senior Vice President Pat Nolan offers his thoughts on the incarceration of mentally ill inmates, and the Christian obligation to reach out in love to those in need behind bars.

“You know, Jesus said, ‘I was naked, and you clothed me.  I was hungry and you fed me.  I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.  I was in prison and you visited me,'” says Nolan.  “These are our brothers and sisters.  We do have an obligation to them.”

The video also includes interviews with prison and law enforcement officials, as well as with inmates and ex-inmates who deal with mental health issues.  They discuss the history of mental illness in America’s prisons; the moral, ethical, and fiscal ramifications of locking up the mentally ill in prison, and possible alternatives to current practices.

To learn more about the issue of mental illness in prison, visit the Justice Fellowship website.

Can’t view the video in your browser? Click here.

How Effective Is Juvenile Detention?

By Steve Rempe | Posted June 25, 2013

What impact does imprisoning young offenders have on their development and maturation?  A new study by economists Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle, Jr. indicates that juvenile detention is not the deterrent desired by law enforcement officials, but actually increases the odds of recidivism while reducing the possibility that they will graduate from high school.

juvenile handcuffs croppedAcknowledging that kids being detained are going to be statistically different than those that have never been detained, the researchers sought to focus on the juvenile justice system in Chicago, and compared kids who received a sentence of detention with those who did not for similar crimes.  In these cases, the incarcerated youth were 13 percent less likely to graduate from high school. and 22 percent more likely to return to prison than those who were sentenced to alternative punishments such as home monitoring.  These recidivism rates for adolescents are significantly higher than those for adult prisoners.

Aizer and Doyle suggest a couple of reasons for their results.  First there is the disruption of time spent at school, which serves as a disincentive to complete the detainee’s education.  But there is also the development of friendships with other offenders behind bars, some of whom are more than happy to share their stories and their ideas.  In this way, juvenile facilities can become an incubator for adult criminals, and a laboratory for future criminal activity.

In many ways, the current juvenile justice system in the United States suffers from many of the same issues that plague the larger justice system—high expenditures, overcrowded prisons, and a failure to curb repeat offenses.  To this end, Justice Fellowship seeks to reform the justice system by promoting alternatives to incarceration when appropriate that will both reduce costs and help restore offenders as productive members of society.  To learn more about Justice Fellowship and the concept of restorative justice, visit their website at www.justicefellowship.org.




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