April 9, 2019
Every Friday, participants from Plymouth Prison Ministry, Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown, Rev. Steven Davis, Rev. Stephen Sinclair, Mike Pierson, Kathy Rood and Jim Gore, show up to meet with their assigned inmates. Each time, they meet with the same persons to foster and grow relationships. In most cases, these men have not experienced the opportunity to socialize beyond prison walls for years.
Studies indicate that when released, recidivism can be reduced with the continuity of relationships developed while in prison. Regular visitation may also reduce incarcerated individuals’ overall stress and psychological anxiety and connection to the outside world. Believing that others have a stake in their well-being can also help people cope while incarcerated.
“Research has found that maintaining visits improves the incarcerated individual’s institutional behavior, reduces the likelihood of recidivism and parole violations upon release, and enhances social support networks (Cotton, 2014).”
“The experience is humanizing, beautiful and impactful,” says Dr. Brown. “When we go, we aren't visiting prisoners. We visit our siblings, and by visiting them, we answer Matthew 25:36 affirmatively. This is part of the essence of our faith.” Volunteers spend one hour with each of two inmates every other Friday.
Inmates go through an extensive evaluation process to qualify for program participation, which began about two years ago with 10-12 volunteers, including several from Plymouth. MCC honors the Visitation program this month in a Volunteer Appreciation event at the facility.
“Before I became a member of the Prison Visit Program, I did some programming at different state prisons in the U.S. and felt called to work with incarcerated persons. What I didn’t realize at first was that the program is about being in relationship—friendship—with inmates. It’s been nearly a year and a half since I first became acquainted with my Daniel and Lorne. Over time my relationship with them has deepened and broadened,” expresses Rev. Stephen Sinclair. “Early on, I heard a lot about their lives within prison; though that is still part of our conversation, we mostly talk like I do with my friends on the outside. I also learned they want to hear about my life: my work, my friends, what I cook, what I do during the day, etc. It doesn’t make them feel bad about their own situation, but, rather, it makes them feel they are part of something on the outside. I know what crimes both my guys committed. As gruesome as they were, I interact with Daniel and Lorne like I do with other friends. They are flawed and vulnerable people just like I am. Being friends with them is one of the highlights of my life. In our time together, I have seen them change and grow because they now have someone to visit with twice a month. They know I care about them and I know that I am loved and respected by them. I can’t imagine life without them.”
Begun by The Reverend Dale Sewell, former pastor of Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, the purpose of the program is to befriend staff-identified inmates at MCC’s Special Offenders’ Unit who’ve not had visitors for a long time, often years. Inmates in this unit number about 400. The goal is for inmate relationships with volunteers to reduce inmate on inmate violence.
“I became interested in this volunteer activity because of my Sunday Companion role at Plymouth,” says Jim Gore. “The MCC work is similar, but inmates live in a more “regulated” environment compared to lives of many Sunday companionees at Plymouth. I found the work at Monroe initially challenging because I never spent time in a prison facility, and it is uniquely different...virtually all life choices are in others’ hands. I found inmates are very grateful for time we spend with them. They look forward with anticipation to each volunteer visit because it breaks up the routine and monotony. Visits provide inmates something concrete to look forward to. Conversation ranges from weather to politics, economy to hourly wages, current news to how to jump rope, each person’s health and frustrations with the health care system...we all have very much in common.”
Rev. Steve Davis shares similar sentiments, “I’ve experienced only a few things that fill my soul as much as time I spend with friends as part of the Volunteer Visitors Program. For two years, I’ve spent two Fridays a month getting to know some men who have become extremely important and cherished to me. The opportunity to connect with an incarcerated person who is also experiencing some degree of mental illness, and who has had little or no connection with others outside of the corrections system, brings a marvelous melding of life and dignity to simply relate with each other as beings in the “human family.” These men and those who join me in visiting have enriched my life beyond my greatest expectations.”
If you feel called to participate in this ministry, please contact Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown or Rev. Steve Davis.
“These two hours seem to make a very big, positive difference in lives of both inmates and volunteers,” adds Gore. –Janice Randall