Each year, more than 450,000 incarcerated men and women are released from prison and return to society. Many of these returning citizens need a second chance to successfully make the move from prison to a productive life.
Pastor Scott Graham heads up a ministry at Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas, that helps men and women as they reenter their communities after incarceration. Gateway is a multi-site church with campuses throughout Texas. He also runs several businesses that employ formerly incarcerated people.
To mark Second Chance Month®, Prison Fellowship® chatted with Pastor Scott as he shared his heart for walking alongside formerly incarcerated men and women adapting to life after prison.
Prison Fellowship: Pastor, we know you’re concerned with helping people leaving prison make the adjustment back into their communities. How does your church minister to them?
Pastor Scott Graham: We have processes in place so when somebody shows up at a Gateway campus, we've got outreach pastors and a prison team at every campus that are ready and willing to welcome these guys in.
We take them to lunch, dinner, or breakfast or coffee. I take a deep dive, get to know their story, and just let them know that God has a plan for them in their life.
Whatever they've done up to this point, it's done. There's a discipleship track that they've got to follow and there's a vetting process, of course. We walk with them and see where their heart's at, where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, where they need healing, and what we can do to help.
What makes the most difference in bringing about successful reentry?
Our Dallas campus hosted the Prison Fellowship Restore Conference last year, and the common thread among all the discussions about reentry is the same theme: It’s all about relationships. That's what Jesus did. Jesus met us where we were. And that's what we do.
We meet these men and women where they are. These men and women catch onto the vision that God does have a place for them, they do have an opportunity here, and they've got a chance at this. They don't have to go back to prison or go re-offend. And they don't have to go do the things that they've done all the way to the point of incarceration. Now, there's hope and it's actual, it's living, it's tangible, it's evident. You can't deny it. I'm really blessed to be a part of an organization that stands behind the vision and the charge of what we're doing.
What do you think families of people reentering their communities need the most from churches and ministries like yours?
Just to be the hands of Jesus Christ. Jesus met people where they were. The more we can take the religion out of the equation and just inject what the true Gospel is—that we're all sinners, we're all offenders, we all should have been in prison. To remove the veil and the divider that divides people that are coming from incarceration and the religious folks that think that those people don't belong.
Practically speaking, what forms of help have been the most meaningful to people coming to your church right out of prison?
Probably the most meaningful thing that I've gotten to experience as a formerly incarcerated person myself is Prison Fellowship Angel Tree® sports camps. I was asked to represent Gateway Church at this event, and while doing it, it dawned on me what these kids were doing.
There were caregivers bringing the kids, and my wife and I sat there for hours just connecting with the caregivers, just loving on them, and talking about what an impact they made in my life. To be able to serve these caregivers on the other side—it's priceless to see that come full circle. Being able to be a contributor instead of a taker.
What advice would you give other churches who want to come alongside returning citizens?
Get ready for a ride and just hold on and stay committed to the process because there's big-time fruit out there. Some of the most talented men and women I've ever met are people that have come from incarceration.
I've got [formerly incarcerated] people that work in my businesses that are just soaring, have hunger and willingness, desire and humility, that is unmatched by people who haven't been incarcerated.
WHAT IS SECOND CHANCE MONTH?
Prison Fellowship spearheaded Second Chance Month® in 2017. Since then, multiple U.S. presidents and more than 25 states have recognized Second Chance Month. More than 800 organizations, congregations, and businesses have joined Prison Fellowship as official Second Chance Month partners. As a result of these efforts, millions of people know of the barriers faced by people with a criminal record and how to unlock second chances for people who dream of a better tomorrow.
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