Always a Friend
Life seems to go in circles. If you wait long enough, the beginning will soon become the end. Shortly after my wife, Anne, and I graduated from college, we moved to Lexington, Kentucky. Anne began her career as a teacher and I enrolled in law school. We joined a Presbyterian church and soon became targets as potential volunteers. We were recruited to co-lead the junior high school (no middle schools yet) and also were approached by a congregation member who was involved in prison ministry. Carl asked us to consider becoming volunteers in a program called Volunteers in Corrections. We were young and naïve but had servant hearts, so we were trained to be mentors to work with a man who would be coming out of prison soon.
After the brief training, we were left on our own. It was quite an experience working with Butch. He was a lot wiser and worldlier than we were at that stage in our lives. It was a rocky road for us. After few weeks, we discovered that Butch was an alcoholic and that he had relapsed. In hindsight, we weren’t trained quite well enough and could have benefitted from much more oversight. But we stayed with it and though Butch had his ups and downs, he did manage to stay out of prison. This was quite an achievement for this life-time, multiple felon. He was personable, talented and ambitious. He had just used those gifts and talents in the wrong ways.
Our lives parted after almost a year of working together and Butch moved out of town. We lost touch with him but the experience lingered. Actually, Anne and I thought we failed to do what we had hoped to do for Butch. But you never can tell the impact you might have on another person and, in fact, when working with returning citizens it’s not what you do “for” them it’s how you can best equip them to do for themselves. After this rather intense experience, Anne and I went on with our careers and didn’t continue to work with Volunteers in Corrections. Years later, we received a Christmas card postmarked from California with an address unfamiliar to either one of us. It was from Butch. He was writing to wish us a Merry Christmas and to let us know of his success. He was sober and a small business owner. He had recently married and was thriving in his new locale. Every Christmas since, he has sent us a card and signs each one, “Always a friend.”
They say, “What goes around, comes around.” Today, I am the program coordinator of Mission Behind Bars and Beyond. I learned a lot from that early experience with Butch. We train small groups of people to serve together as mentors to returning citizens. Well-trained, committed faith-based or community-based mentors seem to be an important key to reducing recidivism. Learn more about our mentoring program by looking at our website. I would like to hear about mentoring programs in which you may be involved. I’d like to share your stories right here. I look forward to hearing from you.