How We As A Faith Community Might Respond To The Crisis Of Mass Incarceration

On February 22, Rev. Marilyn Kendrix moderated a panel discussion at First Presbyterian Church on How We As A Faith Community Might Respond To The Crisis Of Mass Incarceration. The Rev. Kendrix is an expert on mass incarceration, a contributor along with our own Jen Herbst, to the book, The Justice Imperative and the Associate Pastor for Faith Formation at the Church of the Redeemer.

The panelists were strong advocates for compassion, redemption, mercy and love. They each asked that we devote part of our time, talent and treasure to welcoming the formally incarcerated back into our community. They emphasized how important it is to the success of the newly released to be loved and cared for as they reconnect to the community. The panel members were Rev. Gini King, Marcia Myhre, and Kevin Dean, members of First Congregational Church of Guilford’s Prison Re-Entry ministry, and Cindy Clooney, who spoke from her personal experience of being incarcerated at York Correctional Institution in Niantic.

The panel was the kick-off event at First Presbyterian Church for of our Mission Committee’s year of responding to mass incarceration. The year will include speakers, movies, book suggestions, discussions and opportunities for service. The Mission Committee has purchased several books on mass incarceration for the library that you might consider reading. The books are currently on display on the cart next to the Welcome Table.

Mass Incarceration is a problem for the whole community but it is a critical problem for black males. One third of all black males will spend time incarcerated at some point in their lifetime. And after incarceration, there are hundreds of statutory and policy restrictions on housing, employment, public benefits, immigration and voting rights.

In the book “Ghettoside A true Story of Murder In America”, Jill Levy describes the injustice of living in South Los Angeles. In this neighborhood, murders and shooting violence went unsolved while minor transgressions were aggressively prosecuted. She writes, “It is at once oppressive and inadequate.”

Matthew quotes Jesus saying: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And from James 2:17, mercy triumphs over judgment.

The panel discussion centered was around how we might provide assistance to former inmates upon their release. People are currently released with only the clothes they are wearing and their few personal possessions they were allowed to have in prison. Men are released in front of the Whalley Avenue jail and women are released in front of the courthouse. Some have no one to meet them.

Some of the local programs we might volunteer with or provide donations to are:

  • First Congregational Church Guilford has an active Prison Re-Entry Program. As part of that program, Marcia Myhre provides duffle bags to as many released women as she is able to each year. The duffels are filled with a variety of basic clothing and personal care items that a women needs in the first day after release. She asked if we could help by providing 20 filled duffels per year.
  • St Luke’s Church on Whalley provides a welcoming space for the newly released.
  • The Manson Youth Correctional Facility in Cheshire welcomes volunteer mentors.
  • Family Reentry Inc. in Bridgeport (http://www.familyreentry.org/aboutus.jsp) has many needs.
  • Families in Crisis in New Haven and Hartford (http://www.familiesincrisis.org) provides counseling and other services to families people who are in prison.
  • Community Partner’s In Action runs a resettlement program with a broad variety of services in Hartford (http://www.cpa-ct.org/resettlement/)
  • The Malta Justice Initiative is working on legislative changes to improve the chance of success for former inmates.
  • The book, The Justice Imperative, includes 30 recommendations plus desired outcomes to reduce the prison population, reduce the recidivism rate and close prisons while maintaining public safety.
  • The Phoenix Association is a Connecticut-based organization, mainly of formerly incarcerated people, helping other people, both inside and outside prison. (http://www.phoenixassociation.org) They are working to help the correctional systems move from a punishment model to a rehabilitation model.

Any member of the Mission Committee would be happy to talk with you about the crisis of mass incarceration. Please prayerfully consider your response and watch the Inkling and weekly Bulletins for announcements of future events.