Prison Ministry Up Close

Date Posted: 6/13/2013

Conference attendees joined TAC Restorative Justice Committee Chair Mark Pickett on a field trip to witness the life changing program being modeled at a prison unit in Sugar Land, Tx. Some share their thoughts on how the experience is inspiring them to do more for “the least of these.”

Quite a bit has changed at the Carol Vance prison since Reverend Mark Pickett (current Chair of the TAC Restorative Justice Committee) served as one of the TDCJ Chaplains in 1994-95. More than a dozen Annual Conference attendees joined Mark aboard a school bus headed to Sugar Land for a prison ministry field trip at lunch on May 27th. Some had extensive experience with prison ministry and some were complete newcomers.

Mark experienced a moment of déjà vu. “Back then, it was basically a trustee unit with most of the inmates working out in the surrounding fields planting and harvesting crops. It did not have a chapel like it does now.  When the unit was renamed 15 years ago, its mission changed from just safely confining assigned inmates, to offering them a transformational experience through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

TAC members were the guests of The InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a faith-based program started by Prison Fellowship and open to inmates of all faith backgrounds who meet established entry requirements.  Program leaders toured the group through the prison to demonstrate the program’s goal of life transformation through an 18-24 month program of worship, Bible studies, training classes and small group work.  Notes Mark, “Each inmate is assigned a mentor for the duration of the program which includes a 6-month aftercare program once they are released from prison.”  The benefits of this amazing program are 1) the reduction in the recidivism rate of the inmates who complete the program and 2) the thousands of dollars that the Texas taxpayers save every year.”

Doris Woodland, Texas Conference Spiritual Growth Coordinator, was very impressed with this innovative and evangelical program. “I especially was impressed hearing and seeing men given the opportunity of learning speaking skills through the Toastmaster class and hearing about a father learning to read so he could record an audio track of a book to send to his child.”

 

Adds Doris, “I'm telling groups about Interchange to make them aware of what is needed and to tour and bring back information. I believe if more prisoners felt love from God's people, hopefully less prisons would need to be built.”

 

Within the threesome from Waller UMC attending the tour, two were seasoned prison ministry volunteers and one was a newcomer. Reverend Kelly McIntosh regularly communicates with five inmates via letters, phone and personal visits. Lay Leader “Bunny” Kennedy has virtually “adopted” one of the inmates she has been encouraging over the years. “I will never forget a woman telling me, with tears flowing over her cheeks, that her biggest fear was that she would die and no one would know her son was in prison,” she explains. “I quickly volunteered to write to him – and, after all these years, he’s like a son to me.” Seeing the spiritually transformational InnerChange model firsthand was most impactful to those who are accustomed to seeing a harsher reality in prison settings. “Having volunteered within the more restrictive maximum security prison system for years, it was great to see this program’s progress with rehabilitation in our justice system,” adds Kelly. “Prison ministry is all about rehabilitation because inmates are experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to set them free in the love of God – whether they are ever physically free or not.”

 

To learn more about prison ministry needs and opportunities across the state, contact Mark at mpickett@huntsvillefumc.org