Every race has a finish line. But what happens when that line gets pushed farther out making it virtually unreachable?
That’s how it can feel for men and women entering society after completing their prison term. Though their “debt to society” has been paid, payday never ends since many former prisoners find themselves wading through a “second prison,” further locking them into a life with limited choices.
To support The Second Prison Project, Prison Fellowship’s director of strategic innovation and assessment, Kelly Friedlander, gathered folks from her church in Washington, D.C., to participate in the May 8 Second Chances 5K at America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs.
Every year, National Community Church hosts about 30 short-term mission trips. Kelly submitted the idea to her church about joining forces with The Second Prison Project and participating in the Colorado 5K. “I’ve never led a mission trip, and honestly didn’t want to do it. But the Spirit kept convicting me.” She put in her application, and her husband, David, co-lead the effort. The Lord brought 10 other people to join them.
“With the amazing help of [Prison Fellowship area director] John Byrne and the Colorado team, we put together a schedule of activities,” Kelly added. They spent four days in Colorado Springs and attended the annual “Breaking the Chains” volunteer conference May 6-7 at Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel. “The conference is organized by the Colorado team, and it helped provide context for the issues we deal with regarding the criminal justice system and the second prison,” she said.
During the 5K, Kelly and her team had fun interacting with the community and Prison Fellowship staffers, pitching in with set up, registration and T-shirt distribution, water stops, finish-line timing, and handing out orange keys, which serve as a symbol of “unlocking” the second prison. “It was a really moving experience. No one other than me had ever been in a prison or had prison ministry experience,” Kelly said, “but they all walked away with a better understanding of the challenges faced by those formerly incarcerated.”
After the 5K, Kelly’s group volunteered at an in-prison event at La Vista Correctional Facility, a women’s facility in Pueblo. Since it happened to be Mother’s Day, Kelly and her team were especially glad to participate in this evening of worship. “We spent time praying with the women, many of whom were missing their kids and their own mothers that day,” Kelly said. To end the day, the book, If, by National Community Church lead pastor Mark Batterson, was provided to all of the women prisoners.
The experience inspired some of Kelly’s friends to make a difference back home in their own communities. One person inquired about volunteering as a writer for Prison Fellowship’s advocacy program, while two others are organizing a church trip to a Wings for Life in-prison event in Ohio this December. Kelly’s pastor plans to use his new knowledge in his mentoring of several men at Southeast White House, an outreach center in D.C.
Across the country, there are opportunities for churches and individuals to get involved in changing the lives of prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. From in-prison ministry, to serving the children of prisoners through Angel Tree, to assisting men and women as they transition to life outside prison walls, God is using people like Kelly and churches like National Community church to make a difference. To find out more about how you or your church can get involved, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/action.