Welcome and Support for Returning Citizens

I live in Louisville, Kentucky, so it was no surprise that the city was abuzz about a new Frontline documentary, “Locked Up in America,” recently produced and broadcast by PBS. The second in a two-part series titled, “Prison State,” followed the lives of four Kentuckians who have a history of going in and out of our jails and prisons.  Two of the people were young girls.  The other two were older men. What was depicted was a broken system of incarceration that is common in every state of the union.  As the jailer of the Louisville Metro Detention Center remarked, we are incarcerating far too many people for the wrong reasons.   The issues are complicated and the solutions are complex.

The first segment in this series is titled, “Solitary Nation.”  It is a sobering expose of the use of solitary confinement in our nation’s prisons.  This segment also follows the experiences of four men who have been placed in solitary confinement in a prison in Maine.  What is represented is the frustration of maintaining order in our overcrowded prisons and the realization that solitary confinement does not have a positive behavioral outcome upon those segregated.

If you haven’t seen either or both of these and you are interesting in or are presently involved in prison or jail ministry, watching this series is highly recommended.  You can find both segments at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/.   After viewing both segments, let me hear what you think.

One can only conclude that we have a serious problem in the United States.  Mass incarceration has created a prison industrial complex that is fueled by maintaining a large number of people in our prisons and jails.  Realizing that we cannot keep building new prisons and jails (the United States has more people incarcerated per capita than any other country in the world), more and more people are being released into our communities.  Our communities are ill equipped to handle them—there aren’t enough jobs, isn’t enough affordable housing and the impact falls most heavily upon those communities that are already struggling.

There is a role for the church.  Our churches can equip themselves to welcome, support and hold accountable those returning citizens who are coming back to our communities.  By being there for them and their families, the church can demonstrate the unconditional love of God expressed in the life of Jesus Christ.  One effective response is to create a mentoring program.  Mentoring programs match trained lay people to work with those recently released from prison or jail. An outline of a Reentry Mentor Training prepared by Ford Rowan for the Maryland Street Reentry Committee is available, or a PowerPoint version can be requested by contacting Dean Bucalos at prisonministries@nbacares.org  Ford has given us permission to share it.  He can be reached at fordrowan@comcast.net.

How is your church involved in welcoming returning citizens? What resources can you share with others?  I’d like to hear from you.

Grace and peace,
Dean Bucalos

Rev. Dean Bucalos serves as part-time/contract Mission Specialist for NBA Prison and Jail Ministries. Connect with Dean by phone at (502) 396-3543 or by email at prisonministries@nbacares.org.

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