Grandma Love

Imagine with me that you are a grandmother. That role is one of overwhelming love. One of the most difficult aspects of being grandma is standing back when you think your child (your grandchild’s parent) is about to make a mistake.  It is heartbreaking to anticipate the problems that you can see looming on the horizon. Your may interfere, you may not. But, whatever you do it is  pure love. Now, imagine with me that your grandson has done something reprehensible and has been incarcerated. Your grandma love might be tainted with dismay or disapproval, but love is still your default for with this beautiful amazing creature. When this child is released, the greatest need is for a place to stay. Simply a place to sleep while trying to put together a new and free life.

Well, Grandma, if you live in public housing, you can’t help your grandchild. Not that way.  Because you are specifically prohibited from harboring a person on probation or parole.

What an awful place to be.

This system is in place to protect the property of public housing and to protect the residents from being taken advantage of by predatory people. Because society’s assumption is that if a person has committed a crime, that person is a criminal. What a horrible label for someone to have to live into. Sad that some people do what’s expected.

What are our options as citizens? How can we help grandma, and this former prisoner, and still protect the property and well-being of our neighbors? One of our options is to provide housing. A halfway house is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, there are not enough beds for everyone who is released. The rules can be difficult for some people. But, often newly released people are so accustomed to having others make their decisions that it is more difficult to be without external structure than with it.

Hope Restored in Monroe, LA has one house that is available for former prisoners who want their lives to change. Rev. Marcelle Crow conducts bible studies in the local jail and the nearby state prison. She became frustrated that she saw the same people that she had met behind bars when she went with Hope Street Ministries to feed the people living on the streets. With a small amount of money and a congregation with a huge heart, they founded a home for a few of these people.

The house has some rules, but according to one resident, “they are the sort of thing a decent person would just do.” This house only holds a few people. The need Is much greater. The requirement to actually want a life change and be willing to learn keeps some people from even trying. It can be so difficult to envision a different life!

What can we do to make homes like this more available for former prisoners?

How can we come together and support those who are doing this work?

Parents and Prison

“My grandma says I’m just like my mama.” Horror flashed across her face. “She’s at St. Gabriel doing ten years behind a drug charge.”

“Is that how you’re like your mother?  What does Grandma say about how you’re like her?”

“Grandma says its it my eyes, and the way I walk and how smart I am.”

“Do you think you’re going to be going to prison just because you’re like your mom?”

She nodded slowly, eyes welling with tears,  “If Mom is smart, why did she do what she did?  What’s going to keep me from that kind of stupid choice?”

This exchange illustrates the particular abandonment issues that children of incarceration face. There’s loneliness and a hollow longing for the absent parent. But there is also a layer of embarrassment and shame.  That fear of repeating the pattern often lays below the surface. It’s one of those beliefs that is often difficult to share with others.

Children of prisoners pay a price in other ways also.  Having a family member in prison is an expensive endeavor.  There are transportation costs in traveling to the facility for visitation. Plus, the cost of missed work hours for the person who is caring for the child.  Visitation hours are rarely convenient. Emails and phone calls can be had at a price, and sometimes it is a stiff price.  Prisons don’t supply hygiene products, so the prisoner must pay the high prices of the facility canteen.  Many times, the relative who is caring for the child is also trying to pay the lawyer also.

Prison Fellowship and Kairos Prison Ministry go into prisons and share the hope of The gospel with the people who are imprisoned.  They are both wonderful programs designed to help people’s hearts be changed by the love of God in Christ.

Kairos Prison Ministry also has a program called Kairos Outside. It is designed to help the women who have been impacted by a family member’s incarceration. I’d be interested in visiting with someone involved in this ministry. It seems like there would be tremendous opportunities to help families in practical ways.  If you know someone who is involved in Kairos Outside, I’d love to visit with them. Please put them in contact with me!

 

Restoring the felon 

Demetrius* is my friend’s brother.  He ‘s been released from prison, has been for seven months.  He was serving 5-10 years for possession with intent to distribute in Louisiana.  He served five years, he’s on parole, and he still owes a hefty fine.

Let me tell you about Demetrius.  We call him D, he’s tall and handsome.  He has a quiet sense of humor.  He makes fun of himself a lot, but also teases about the society around him. His niece and nephew adore him.  D has been learning to cook and clean in appreciation for the roof over his head.  The little old widows in the neighborhood absolutely rely on him to help them with heavy lifting, yard work and sometimes just a listening ear.  His daughter was born three months after he went in. He doesn’t hear from his baby mama, but her brother stopped by to tell D that he owes five years of child support and the amount is rising every day.  The man offered an “opportunity” for D, one which would violate his parole.  D declined, and the brother left with a vague promise of negative consequences to D if the child support is not paid.

Release is great news! Yet, he’s so disheartened at not finding a job that my friend isn’t sure how hard he’s still looking. He stays with their sister, and job hunting isn’t really a safe topic for conversation.  Little brother reacts badly to what feels more like judgement than concern. What does a family member do in such a circumstance?  Avoid? Confront? Both have definite hazards.

THE BIG QUESTION

How do we as a community of faith help?

SOME ANSWERS

Hope Restored is in Monroe Louisiana. They are offering a series of classes designed to help people when they regain their freedom.  Things like anger management and parenting.  AA meets in their facility to aid addiction recovery. There are counselors available to people who come in. They also sponsor a recovery house which provides a place to live while women find their way to employment, sobriety and housing.  Their goal is also to sponsor a men’s house. This work is so vital and necessary!!

Prison Fellowship has programs for grassroots ministries to learn more about the difficulties of re-entry and ways to address them.

ROOM FOR MORE

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country.  Yet, a Google search for ministry’s helping prisoner re-entry provides minimal results.  There is a huge opportunity here! We can make a huge difference not only in the lives of the former inmate, but in the lives of their children and other family members.

I’d love to hear about what ideas you have. Are you working in a ministry addressing this?

*Not a real name