Posts tagged ‘rehabilitation’

February 11, 2013

ENCOUNTERING THE OTHER (story by Jessica Baltzersen)

“In our society, we don’t know what to do with people that become other,” says Dr. Kate Lassiter, assistant professor of Religious and Pastoral Studies at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The “other” she is referring to are the men and women incarcerated whose voices go unheard and who, as some people perceive, become permanently identified as a delinquent or criminal. When she was 21-years old, Lassiter found herself working with inmates inside a correctional institution. She did not commit a crime, nor was she incarcerated. Instead, she spent her time inside prison walls dedicating her summer to prison ministry work.

It was the summer of 2000, in Hagerstown, Maryland. Lassiter divided her time working at Roxbury Correctional Institution, Maryland Correctional Institution, and Maryland Correctional Training Center. She entered the facilities not knowing what experiences she would encounter.

Lassiter never expected to be working in prison ministry. “It was just something I stumbled into,” she said.

She worked with a Catholic nun in a male correctional facility where she was known as “Sister Kate,” and for three days a week she performed counseling sessions, organized prayer and worship groups, and led church services. The other two days a week she spent in after-prison ministry at a social service agency that helped those individuals who were no longer incarcerated. This service provided basic needs, food, and also housing referrals.

“Prisons were originally religious institutions intended for solitude and reflection,” says Lassiter. Through counseling inmates, she was able to witness the metanoia or spiritual transformation of men who wanted to turn their lives around for the better.

“It was hard, though, because I was never there 24/7,” she says. “There’s no way I could fully grasp or understand what it would be like to be in solitude all of the time.” She came to this realization on July 4, 2000. As she was walking out of the prison she glanced back at the barbed wire surrounding the facility and then looked up at the dark night sky being lit up with fireworks. Seeing the two elements, one symbolizing freedom and the other oppression, she realized how contrary the two were and how she was simply an outsider trying to understand what the people inside the walls were going through.

“Religion sets up guidelines for our lives,” says Lassiter, “and religion has an ability to empower one person.”

She remembered one man in particular, who at the time weighed over 400 pounds. After he began to accept Jesus into his life, he was inspired to not only turn his life around spiritually, but mentally and physically as well. He taught himself to run and lost nearly 200 pounds. He also went back and pursued his GED. After he allowed God into his life it inspired him to change his entire self.

The justice system uses incarceration to keep people oppressed. But to some of those who are incarcerated it is a “community to call home, where they encourage each other,” says Lassiter. In experiencing incarceration, an inmate can view it as a punishment or it can be viewed as a second chance to look within oneself and realize that through spirituality one has the ability to change his or her life.

Twelve years ago, Lassiter worked with what she describes as “people on the edge.” Now, as an assistant professor in the Department of Religious and Pastoral Studies, she still keeps in touch with her mentor and continues research around social justice issues to “support, guide and  nourish those who find themselves incarcerated.

Lassiter believes that she positively influenced men’s lives through her ministry work and counseling.

Humbly, she says, “I don’t want to claim that I changed anyone’s life. It is just something I was called to do.”

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August 19, 2011

Amanda’s Tapestry: The Art of Achieving – by Deb Scott

I met Amanda when she was incarcerated in 2007 at Franklin Pre-Release Center, and she entered and completed the Vineyard Columbus mentoring program. In her words, “If I wouldn’t have had the mentoring program, I wouldn’t have had such a strong belief system.”

Amanda says that this strong belief system helped her be the strong-minded person she needed to be to re-enter the community after being incarcerated. She was released after serving five years in February 2011.

Amanda completed over 50 re-entry and rehabilitative programs while incarcerated. For example, she completed her GED and worked for four years with two off-site work programs at Ohio Penal Industries and the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Amanda also completed two years in Tapestry, a segregated therapeutic community for addicts in prison. Even though she used hertime wisely, taking advantage of every opportunity inside, as she stepped outside the walls of prison with fresh hope and in anticipation of a new start, she was not prepared for the overwhelming discouragement and frustration. She submitted 60-80 job applications with only four job interviews. Because of her felony record, Amanda said there are too few resources for jobs and housing. She found out that “…no one wants to hire a felon or rent to one because, they think you’re trouble, it’s very discouraging and frustrating. It’s hard, really hard.”

Recently, Amanda was a resident in transitional housing and she valued this post-release living environment. She believes this enabled her to make a better transition back into the community because, Amanda said, “They offered a schedule, direction and the ability to totally re-locate yourself.”

Transitional housing facilities are a great place to live, but it’s still hard. The residents are expected to get a job, but a job search requires bus fare which is expensive and most women don’t have the money necessary. Amanda was able to secure bus fare with the help of her family and church community. She acquired a job and rode the bus 1-3/4 hour with four transfers each way.  As she noticed, “A lot of women don’t have this option and they return to old places, people and things…what they know… because old ‘friends’ will give them a place to stay and a meal, but they end up back in the same lifestyle that sent them to prison in the first place.”

While in prison, Amanda finished 2-1/2 years of college but on the outside, when she applied to three different colleges, she experienced discrimination because of her felony conviction. She found college admission offices difficult to work with and very rude once they knew her past. Amanda recognized that in order to get a better job she needed more education, but if she didn’t persevere that wouldn’t happen.

Again, she saw how discouraging it was to try and better oneself after being incarcerated and understood why so many women didn’t make it on the outside. The paperwork alone is overwhelming and, she says, “You have to explain yourself 50 milliontimes as to why you did what you did.” It was her faith in and her relationship with God that reminded her of who she is now.  She says, “Good thing I know the Lord ‘cause He had plans for me that nobody else could stop.”

 

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Editor’s Note: Amanda Marks is doing very well in her new living environment. She is making positive contributions to society and re-connecting to family. RED! also acknowledges the superior work that Deb Scott does as a mentor to women incarcerated in prison in Ohio, particularly in Ohio Reformatory for Women and in Franklin Pre-Release Center.