Justice Ambassador Beth Kuczma knows what it takes to make a difference.
On one seemingly normal day in March of 2011, I learned firsthand what it meant to become a victim of crime. I was in college, working part time, and living at home with my family. However, on this given day my family was out of town, and I came home to a ransacked house. Home invasion, second degree.
Fortunately, the man was caught on my neighbor’s security camera and was identified. I later found out that he went on to commit violent crimes after the home invasion. What if I had been home that day?
In graduate school, I experienced another break-in at a different residence, although this time teens broke in. There are a lot of ramifications from all that, emotionally—as though you can’t feel safe in your own space anymore.
I found the whole victim process rather unclear. After I filled out the police report, I was in contact with a detective. Then, the court date kept getting postponed. Finally, I was subpoenaed for court, but the date conflicted with my graduate school interview, so the court just had me “on call.” I ended up not having to go to court, because my neighbor had camera footage of the break-in.
Before my house was broken into, I didn’t give much thought to the current justice system. I thought it must be set up to work and to keep us safe, as well as it can, from “scary” people. But if we’re just driven by fear, and not by what really makes people safer, we’re going to keep doing the things that aren't working—not getting people the help they need in prison, or holding them back forever because of their record. We have such a long way to go to make it a truly just, restorative system.
A ‘LIFE-GIVING’ OPPORTUNITY
I chose occupational therapy as my career path. Working in mental health led to my journey of becoming a Prison Fellowship® Justice Ambassador. Working in a psychiatric hospital, I had this proximity to people’s stories in a way that really humanized them. Many of my patients were impacted by the criminal justice system. So, I began to realize how many people in the justice system also deal with mental health and/or substance use disorders. I realized I wasn’t OK with people just being discarded by society, and it made me restless to do more.
I ended up going back to school for a degree in criminal justice. Before I got a job in that field, I was looking for ways to get involved in justice reform and found Prison Fellowship’s Justice Ambassador program.
Being a Justice Ambassador is an amazing opportunity to advocate for cultural change and policies that support proportional punishment, constructive corrections culture, and second chances. It’s life-giving to advocate with people who are not only interested in justice issues, but also share your faith.
From the start, Prison Fellowship staff provide you with everything you need to know. They equip you with the tools and information to advocate, from sharing on social media to speaking with lawmakers. I had never met with a lawmaker before joining Prison Fellowship as a Justice Ambassador.
Also, I participated in an Outrageous Justice® small group study, where we learned about justice that restores and explored practical ways to respond to these issues as Christians. The curriculum offers a study guide, discussion questions, and compelling stories of real people impacted by crime and incarceration. After participating for the first time, I led another group through the study.
Soon, I realized that even if I never got a job officially working in criminal justice, I could still make a meaningful impact as a Justice Ambassador.
THE JOURNEY OF FORGIVENESS
I truthfully feel that if I hadn’t been a victim of crime, I could have lost an important perspective. We cannot forget about crime victims, and we must make sure they are seen and validated. At the same time, I’m so passionate about helping restore the people who have caused the harm.
Ten years after the home invasion, I felt personally convicted that if I truly believed in second chances, I also needed to offer forgiveness to the man who broke into my house. God put him on my heart. While I was initially hesitant to write to him, I prayed consistently. Soon, I felt that God was truly leading me to reach out to him. It had been 10 years since the break-in, and he was still in prison with years left on his sentence. I wondered who he was and what kind of person he had become. So, I wrote a letter, extended forgiveness, and told him that God loves him.
I received a letter from him, and from this interaction I received healing and peace that I didn’t receive elsewhere from the justice system. I later learned that my letter was indeed sent in God’s timing, as it came at a moment when this man needed hope and encouragement.
‘LET’S MAKE A DIFFERENCE’
Today, I work in community corrections as a pretrial specialist, where I help more defendants responsibly await their court date in the community so they can continue to work, access mental health or drug treatment, and care for their families. With Prison Fellowship, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with lawmakers about the need for thoughtful justice reforms. A lawmaker might say, “It’s not in my best interest to appear soft on crime,” and I can say, “I understand your concerns, but this is about justice that works.” Even if they are resistant, we are starting those conversations and building bridges.
The deeper you go in this work, actually meeting and working with people who are in jail and in prison, the more you see them as human. The more you see their struggles. The more you’re driven to want to do something to change the current system. I just wish the world could see how amazing the minds and souls of these people are, instead of labeling and discarding them.
And I believe the church should get more involved with justice issues because our God cares about justice and redemption. We can't forget the people who are just out of sight, out of mind. God sees them. They’re made in the image of God, and they have so much to give to the world. Even if you feel like you’re not making the impact you wish you could in the current system, it’s powerful to know you're doing what God has called you to do. I’m reminded of that Mother Teresa quote: “God has called us not to be successful but to be faithful.”
You don’t need a criminal justice degree to make a difference. You just need a heart that cares and wants to see justice that restores. It’s amazing to come alongside Justice Ambassadors from all over the country with this shared passion. That sense of community helps you recharge, because you’re with all these like-minded people who are like, “Yes. Let’s do this. Let’s make a difference.”
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