Newgate Fellowship - Ministry to Ex-offenders

Date Posted: 10/31/2011

Restorative Justice ministries in the Texas Annual Conference reach beyond the boundaries of what might one might think of when they hear the phrase “prison ministry.” They often touch the lives of not only those currently and formerly incarcerated, but their familes, correctional officers and crime victims as well.


It can be a difficult transition for those who finish their prison term and are released, according to Rev. Marvin Hood, pastor at Newgate Fellowship United Methodist Church in Houston. He said many need basic support just to get started setting up a new life for themselves.


Newgate is in ministry with current and former inmates from area prisons. Hood -  who describes his appointment as being a restorative justice pastor, said they try to address ex-offenders’ most urgent needs.


“First they need housing and then employment,” he said. “They may have family problems, and have to find transitional facilities that will support them. Some need clothes and shoes so they can go to work.” And, as for transportation, Hood said many don’t have access to a car. “Newgate won’t give them money – but we can offer bus tokens. They have to give us paperwork letting us know what places they will be at looking for work,” he added.


“When most are released, they don’t have ID cards.” Newgate will provide monetary assistance to get state issued ID’s and help them look for work and get applications. The ministry will also assist in getting birth certificates when possible. “They need help in getting a job which can be difficult…” Hood said they advise former inmates to always check ‘yes’ when an application asks whether they have committed a felony and to be honest about their past. “We also have a clothes closet available when former prisoners need clothes for work or something to wear to church.”


Newgate’s outreach ministry touches several areas that fall under the heading of restorative justice and connects the church with ex-offenders, victims and correctional professionals including wardens, administrators and chaplains who help support their work. Hood said he is grateful for his appointment as a restorative justice pastor in the Texas Annual Conference, and ministry in prisons and to ex-offenders is clearly his passion.


He said he came to realize through his work that there are many in the United Methodist church who aren’t aware of John Wesley’s focus on prison ministry. “Our ministry DNA is made up of restorative justice fundamentals and principles. We chose the name Newgate to honor Methodist heritage. Newgate was the name of the London prison John Wesley did prison ministry in.”


Hood’s ministry at Newgate Fellowship includes a mentorship component where volunteers work with those who have been incarcerated and are now working toward re-integrating into society. Starting with only four mentors, he said they have expanded their program to 35 volunteers who currently work with inmates. They now offer mentoring twice-per-month to those who are nearing the end of their sentence and they continue to meet with mentees post release. “These are very effective and need fulfilling ministries,” Hood continued.


“Newgate also provides after care ministry that meets every Friday evening for men and women being released from prison, and their families are encouraged to attend with them.” He said it is meant to be a place where people can come immediately after being released from prison. “This ministry provides a vehicle for self expression where [ex-offenders] can talk about or express any feelings of anxiety as a result of their incarceration.”


Rev. Hood noted that he and his wife, Bonita, are both graduates of Samaritan center for pastoral care. Bonita Hood serves as Newgate’s Director for Pastoral Care of post-release men and women. “We provide Christian counseling for those who need psychological or social assessments, and we may refer those who need further pastoral care to the other collaborating entities,” he continued.


Newgate also provides a restorative a justice calendar to direct volunteers who want to help out at different facilities and programs. “If volunteers tell us their interests we can match them to the ministry needs. We also encourage folks who may not have an interest in going into the prisons to help in other ways.  There are plenty of opportunities where they can serve.”


Hood is available to speak at churches and events, and teaches others how to engage in effective prison ministry. “We’re a training facility for TDCJ and train people for volunteer ministry inside and outside the prisons. I speak about restorative justice at many churches - several that may be involved in some type of prison ministry…” He added that he strives to change how people view social justice and prison ministry. “One of our greatest challenges is changing social perception about persons who have been incarcerated.”


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Learn about John Wesley’s work in Prison Ministry:


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