Female Ex-Offender Ministry Seeks Partner Churches
When female ex-offenders are released and dropped off at the bus station, the Oaks of Righteousness group, with the support of individuals and churches, helps these women transition on the inside and out.
Texas women from the prison facilities in Dayton are driven to the downtown Houston Greyhound station where they are dropped off to fend for themselves after serving their time. Most have no money, and are hungry having eaten breakfast before their departure at 4 a.m. Their clothing marks them as vulnerable targets for pimps and drug dealers who recognize the signature brown prison shoes and red mesh bags that hold their possessions. “Women that find themselves alone, penniless, and hungry in a strange city, often feel forced to accept help from just about anyone,” explains Beth Whittier, passionate member of the Kingwood UMC prison ministry team.
Presently, Kingwood United Methodist Church and Kingwood Christian Church, work together to assist female ex-offenders during their first few hours after release. “We welcome and encourage other congregations to consider partnering with us in this ministry of hospitality and transition back into society.”
The ministry is able to greet women with the love of God there three days a week, but the goal is to serve women five days a week, and eventually serve men released in Houston as well. “We would welcome the opportunity to advise congregations in other Texas cities who wish to begin a similar ministry to ex-offenders being released into their communities,” Beth adds.
Restorative Justice on the Freedom Bus
Volunteers meet the ladies and offer whatever assistance they need during those critical first few hours, beginning with lunch, a change of clothing, tote bags and the use of cell phones to help them connect with family or friends. According to Beth, some have bus vouchers to another town or might need fare to ride the local bus. “Our Freedom Bus volunteers assist with all of these issues to insure that the ladies have the means to get safely to wherever they need to go,” she says. “Sometimes there is no home to go to, in which case, volunteers will provide a ride to a nearby homeless shelter. We become their support system when they step off that prison van scared and alone. We try to create a safe, non-judgmental bubble of support around them as they figure out what they need to do and where they need to go in order to get safely home. We offer a ministry of presence, an act of kindness, and a way-station of hospitality.”
How You Can Help
Volunteers are needed for the Freedom Bus ministry on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon-3p.m. and training is provided. See freedombusministry.com for more information.
- Additional helpers, contributions and donated items are also needed for Kingwood UMC’s newest prison ministry initiative: a nonprofit organization called the Oaks of Righteousness that helps previously incarcerated women build a self-sufficient and productive life. Oaks of Righteousness is a nonprofit organization, in downtown Humble, devoted to helping these women transition from incarceration to a productive, stable life. Current financial support for Oaks of Righteousness also comes from community members, civic organizations and local churches. The wish list includes household items: laundry detergent, dryer sheets, disinfectant wipes, paper towels, toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, cleaning supplies.
Beth, the current Director, was instrumental in acquiring and organizing this much-needed living space, and is excited to mark its first anniversary this month. “Oaks of Righteousness is a calling from God to establish a safe home for female ex-offenders,” Beth shares. “A Board of Directors gathered to adopt a Ministry Development Plan in 2012, and received 501c3 status. A generous donor purchased the house in 2013 and the first resident moved into the home in 2014. Many of the women we accept into the program are indigent, but more importantly, they want to change their lifestyle and become productive members of society with God’s help. We watch in amazement as God transforms and renews us all.” The organization derives its name from Isaiah 61:3: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”
Russ Spiller, current president of the Board of Directors for the Oaks of Righteousness Ministry, is also passionate about helping these women avoid ending up returning to their former homes, former lifestyle or falling into the same habits that lead up to their imprisonment. Although the organization began in 2012, it was not until May 2014 that Oaks of Righteousness was able to open its doors to the first resident client. Now, to commemorate the one year mark of the facility’s official opening, Spiller and his fellow board members want to spread awareness about their mission.
“Our stated purpose is to provide transitional living, nominally a nine-to-12 months stay, for women coming out of incarceration with nowhere else to go,” Russ explains. “Our board of directors are all volunteers and we’re a faith-based organization, so our program has a foundation of faith-related activities. The program incorporates a combination of life skills, job readiness, access to basic healthcare services, and continued spiritual growth through our faith-based programming.”
To graduate, a client resident must complete the program, including a job readiness course. They must become employed, and have sustained employment. During this interim period, the client’s paychecks are not available for open spending which allows them to build a nest egg for when they’re out on their own.
“We just graduated our first client Thursday, April 30, who was able to move on, and make a living at a job that she secured,” reports Russ. There is capacity for six in the four-bedroom house in downtown Humble with a live-in manager on-site. The program’s success rate statistics look good. Nonetheless, he continues striving for improvement. An integral part of achieving this goal depends on their semi-annual fundraisers.
“This year, our fall fundraiser will be at Kingwood United Methodist Church. It is a luncheon with a silent and live auction and included in the live auction are pieces of donated furniture that women resident clients refurbish.”
Weekly, there are an average of 20 volunteers who assist with Oaks of Righteousness programming. For more information on Oaks of Righteousness and how to volunteer, visit www.oaksoftexas.org. Reach Beth at 281-732-2830.