How did you get started in the program in which you volunteer?
I have a good friend who served hard time in several prisons many years ago and he felt led to go back into the prison to lead Bible studies for the inmates, to encourage and counsel them, and let them know someone cares and that they can have hope of a productive life again. I wanted to support him, so I began going in with him. That was 16 years ago. He is now serving as the Senior Chaplain at Men’s Central Jail in L.A. I volunteer in the California Institute for Men (CIM) in Chino, where I serve six to eight times per month. CIM has over 3000 men incarcerated there.
Tell us about the organization that administrates this program and what it takes to become involved.
The CIM Chaplain coordinates ministry for inmates. We originally went through training by Prison Fellowship, as well as training by the CIM administration. There are a large number of ministries and organizations that provide programming for inmates, like my church does.
What is meaningful about this type of volunteer program to you?
Men that are incarcerated lose just about everything they have. They lose their freedom, their careers, their privacy, their self esteem, complete control of their lives, and often, their relationships with loved ones. Many are struggling with their health and live in prison conditions that are extremely unpleasant. It is hard for them to keep from completely losing hope. But I believe and I have seen that restoration of the human spirit is possible, even within this environment. I know that God is able to change the lives of these men when they are willing and seek Him. My goal is to reach out to these men to let them know that someone cares about them. I try to help give them the life perspective and support they need to find joy in the midst of their hellish circumstances and experience a changed heart.
Every year around 130,000 inmates parole from our state prisons and another 130,000 are committed. Recidivism rates typically run over 67%. This means that within three years, two thirds of those released will be incarcerated again. My hope is that the inmates I work with experience a changed heart and life and that they will beat the odds (which are heavily stacked against them) and stay out to become productive members of society. It is also my hope that our communities will be safer as lives are changed. According to 2008 statistics, in California the cost was over $47,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate. The huge cost of corrections is a heavy load on our state’s budget. All the men that are victorious in not returning to prison also end up helping our state’s financial crisis.
What types of things do you do to relax?
I like to relax by reading and spending time with my family. One of my favorite side benefits of going into the prison is the giggles my daughter gets when she answers the phone when telemarketers call. They ask if they can speak to me and she answers, “I am sorry, my Dad is in the prison.” She always gets a long pause and sometimes an apologetic remark and then an awkward hang-up as they don’t know what to say.