An unexpected consequence of my ex-husband’s prison sentence, is that I’ve become more aware of the prison culture. As some of you may know, I’ve started collecting resources here on this blog for caregivers of children of incarcerated parents. And today I learned of a very specific ministry that one church is undertaking in Huntsville, Texas, that I’d like to share with you.
Right after my ex-husband’s arrest, the children and I were visiting him fairly frequently. He was located in the regional jail, about a 15-20 minute drive from where we live. On a few occasions, I happened to be at the jail waiting to visit or leaving after a visit, when the jail released a prisoner after serving their sentence.
Sometimes there was someone to meet the prisoner and take them home. But a couple of times, I watched released prisoners walk down the busy highway after their release, because there was no one to pick them up. One time I gave a ride to a woman who had just been released to a location in Newport News.
My ex-husband’s brother has also been in prison. For the past 25 years. His parents were notified of his release this week. They happened to be in Texas at the time for treatment of the father’s cancer, and so they were able to make the trip to the Huntsville, TX prison facility to meet their son immediately after his release. They will leave early tomorrow morning to return to Hawaii.
But talking on the phone today with my mother-in-law, she shared with me about the tremendous ministry of First Baptist Church of Huntsville, TX. This church recognizes that it is in a unique position to provide a unique ministry to this prison.
Oftentimes, what my in-laws have learned and what I have learned is that to get information from the prison is difficult to do. I’ve called with questions before and have received conflicting information. The rules are everchanging. Many times a family can feel lost in the bureaucracy. Or just lost in general.
This amazing church recognizes that and has chosen to do something about it. Today, when my in-laws went to pick up their son, volunteers from FBC, Huntsville were there to greet them. They are at the prison every day, five days a week. They wait with the families and loved ones who are their to pick up the prisoners. The families usually have dozens of questions that the prison has not given them the answer to. These volunteers patiently answer their questions–such as, “What time will they release the prisoners?”. They love these families and loved ones in such a unique and caring way that I’m sure leaves a tremendous impression on them. I know it did on my in-laws.
This church also talks to the prisoners on the night before they are released. They share with them scripture and words of encouragement for this next stage of their life. They are a listening ear.
And lastly, this church also ministers to the men and women with the difficult job of working as guards at the prison. They make visits to their homes, and bring water to them while they are working. These practical ways of sharing the love of Christ are making a difference.
They refer to their ministry as Restorative Justice. I believe that is a beautiful name for what they are doing. In contemplating this phrase for awhile, an important passage in Isaiah came to mind. It’s found in Isaiah 42:1-7:
This passage is one of hope. And I can’t think of anything more than a prisoner needs than the gift of hope. Please don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in justice. My ex-husband is where he needs to be, for the crimes that he committed. But as a Christian, I also believe in restorative justice, such as is proclaimed here in Isaiah. Why? Because I, too, need restorative justice. I sin against God. Daily. This passage is as much for me as it is for those who are sitting alone in cell blocks tonight. We all are in need of God’s restorative justice.
When you get a chance, visit First Baptist Church of Huntsville’s website and read about their ministry. And if you are in an area that is near a prison, what simple things can you do in order to bring hope not only to prisoners therein, but to the employees of the institute, the families of the prisoners, and yes, the victims of the crimes committed.