While working in a chaplain-type role for a state prison in North Idaho, Todd Holcomb has seen, from the inside, just how vital diligent volunteers are to the successful rehabilitation of prisoners. He shares his thoughts on the importance of investing in the lives of prisoners and their families below in an adaptation of an article originally published on MissionTV.com:
They call me a chaplain, but I’m really just a coordinator. A Volunteer and Religious Services Coordinator. VRC for short. Or VCR, or VHS; nobody really seems sure because the position is still relatively new. It’s only been within the last three years that the Idaho Department of Corrections switched from hiring state chaplains to contracting out for VRC’s.
As a VRC, I do not lead or participate in any volunteer or religious activities. I simply coordinate them. I work with volunteers who want to come to the prison to serve. I help them with the paperwork, training, and scheduling. I work with administration and security to find a place for them in our strict schedule. And I serve as their liaison with staff. I shuffle the papers and do a lot of talking, but it’s our volunteers who really do the work.
Prison volunteers are some of the most courageous people I have ever met. I’ve spent time on the mission field and in local ministries, but there’s glory in all that. There’s a spotlight on foreign lands and local pulpits – even community kitchens on Thanksgiving. But prison work is thankless. It is obscure, feared, and even reviled. And there is no thicker wall to beat your head against.
But each and every victory is literally a new life.
Night after night, week after week, year after year, volunteers give time, wisdom, hope, and love. Then one day it happens. The change takes place. Perhaps it’s a young kid who’s in trouble for the first time, or maybe it’s a 54-year-old man who never grew up. But when that day comes that they realize the secret to life is to stop taking and start giving, that day becomes the first day of the rest of their lives.
There is no greater joy than seeing the hope you have found in life bloom in somebody else’s soul. Ultimately, everyone is looking for a new beginning, and it’s our volunteers who are best equipped to help them find it.
Not only are most volunteers equipped with their own dynamic stories to tell, but they’re also connected to the outside community. And this is where the hope of a new life can become a reality for a prisoner. Nearly 90 percent of all IDOC prisoners will be released at some point, many of them having spent the majority of their adult lives behind bars. The kind of support they receive, whether or good or bad, will greatly influence whether or not they return.
If a prisoner even has a community to return to, then it’s most likely the same one that got them locked up to begin with. It is through courageous volunteers and community-minded people that ex-prisoners have the chance to succeed at a new life. It takes bravery to teach someone the secret to a healthy life, and it takes loving perseverance to show them how to live it out.
So, if you’ve ever thought about doing some kind of volunteer work, consider one of your state prisons if it’s nearby. Record stories that fathers read to their children. Or teach a business class, or trade skill. Some much needed work within the facility could be accomplished while teaching prisoners modern market skills. Consider becoming a mentor of someone being released into your county, and walk with them through that process – helping them get connected to a supportive community, find a place to live, and get a job. Bring in a Bible study and discuss the significance of the roles we fill in our communities.
Getting involved in the lives of the men and women in prisons is a powerful way to change lives, strengthen communities, and reduce recidivism. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your own new beginning. I certainly have.
Finding a Way to Serve
Prison Fellowship’s many in-prison programs provide a practical venue for positively influencing prisoners for Christ. Through Prison Fellowship’s evangelistic outreach events, Bible studies, life skills classes, mentoring programs, and more, you can share the Good News with prisoners that Jesus came to save them! You can help prisoners make important discoveries that draw them closer to God and renew their perspective on the world, and on themselves. Learn more about how you can get involved here!