Over 10,000 ex-prisoners are released from America’s state and federal prisons every week and arrive on the doorsteps of our nation’s communities. More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year. But what if I told you that most of them are still not free even though they are not living in a cell anymore. They are still prisoners to their addictions, their broken relationships, and their past.
So what is it that we can do to enable them to experience freedom? What are the ways that we can be a part of the life change for the men and women that have been in prison? I believe that these are a few questions that we need to be asking ourselves especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. Here are a few things that I have learned over the last couple of months from spending time with the men and women of our city that have been released from prison:
- SEE THEM AS A PERSON – They have already spent a great deal of time where they were seen as a number and not as an individual. They carry with them not the identity as a person but the burden of what they have done. That means we have the opportunity to see them not as a number and not as crime but as a person. Here is a quote that I have been thinking about: “Always pray to have eyes that see people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith in God.” I believe that we have the possibility to be a part of the change of someone who may still see themselves as a prisoner. One of the things that I believe is important for some of us to remember is this: “The only difference between them and us, is that they got caught.” Just a little food for thought.
- TALK TO THEM NOT ABOUT THEM – I have recently had the opportunity to spend some of my time with several men and women that have been recently released from prison. It has opened my eyes to the fact that many of them still have a hard time talking with people that they feel can either do or take away something from them. They are constantly aware of what people can and will mostly say about them because of there life choices. So I make a point to talk to them, to look them in the eye and find out who they are and what is happening in their life. It is building on the first thing as seeing them as a person and then talking to them and not about them. If more people were willing to talk to returning citizens we just might gain some understanding of who they are and what is happening in their lives.
- CHOSE TO HELP NOT HINDER – This is where I am amazed at the hardness of some people’s hearts and the depth of the fear that they have for the unknown. People will unfortunately automatically think of a person that has been released from prison as the worst person they can think of in this world. But the truth of the matter is that many of these individuals are people just like you and me that have either made a choice or have been involved in a situation that has lead them to being in prison. (Think about Martha Stewart she is a felon.) So why not see how you can help them? Why not see what you can do to enable them to see that they don’t need to go back to where they have just came from. I am fortunate to be able to work and be with an amazing group of people that are doing just that, choosing to help these men and women and not to hinder them. The place and people can all be found at the Second Chance Center a place where the decision has been made to help returning citizens experience lives of success and fulfillment.
So what are you doing to help make men and women that were previously incarcerated feel free again?
7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.Romans 6:7 (NLT)