Facebook Group Connects Dozens of Prison Fellowship Academy Alumni in Minnesota
Formerly incarcerated men and women face many new decisions when leaving prison—from when to eat and what to wear, to how to get a job and find housing. The public health crisis in 2020 has made reentry support more vital than ever. Dawn Rassett and Harley Weilage know how vital a supportive community is when coming out of prison is. Without it, life would look much different.
Dawn and Harley are graduates of the Prison Fellowship Academy®, a rigorous, long-term program leading prisoners to transform their lives and embrace prosocial values. Recently, they helped create an exclusive Facebook group for Academy alumni from Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee (MCF-Shakopee), where they both served time.
The two developed a special bond while incarcerated. Harley graduated from the Academy in 2016, just a year behind Dawn's class. "She was my 'pod mom,'" Harley says of Dawn and their prison housing unit. "I feel really honored that we're doing this [Facebook group] together."
Leaving the sisterhood of the Academy can feel bittersweet. Upon release, many women relocate to the Twin Cities, but some move farther out. The new Facebook group allows Academy alumni from MCF-Shakopee to connect and support one another even from afar. These virtual connections became even more important when COVID-19 hit and social distancing measures became the norm.
Dawn, Harley, and their fellow graduates can’t meet for breakfast and prayer in person the way they used to. But they can meet for prayer online through videoconferencing. "It's been nice to have an open floor to know that we can reach out to each other. … We know the work that we had to do to get to where we are. So, there's that common bond."
The Facebook group is a place to refer reentry resources. Members also post information on events like prayer walks during Second Chance® Month and information on Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery. Group members share life updates and favorite scriptures. They regularly remind one another of the tools and values they discovered in the Academy.
"When you have this expectation getting out of prison that it will be easy, and then it's not, this gives us a place to support each other, see each other succeed, help each other through spiritual warfare," explains Harley. "We get to come alongside one another and be there for each other, to support each other during our struggles."
A PLACE TO BELONG
Anybody who has graduated from the Academy at MCF-Shakopee can request to join the Facebook group. Dawn knows of one person who couldn't join Facebook right away, due to parole restrictions. But that alumna's parole officer made an exception for her. The hope is that as many women as possible will belong in this virtual community.
"I went to jail a few times and got out, and I never found a good support team ever," Harley shares. "So, when I got out, I always went back to the same people that I thought had my best interest."
Now, Harley says the Facebook group is a safe place to gather with women who love Jesus and have one another's best interests at heart. They may have broken pasts, but they have hopeful futures.
"I hope that other women can join [the group] and feel that connection," says Dawn.
The challenges awaiting prisoners on the other side of the gate can be overwhelming. But a supportive, caring community can remind them they are never alone. Dawn says, "Next, we'll use our [Facebook] page to start organizing monthly breakfasts again—as soon as we can!"
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