|courtsey Libery Movement|
Last week I stared the process again as a mentor to a man who was released from prison after serving nearly 3 years. Because it is several hours away, I drove to the town near the prison the night before his release so I could get a good night's sleep. I was to be at the prison gates by 7:30AM the next morning. Because of prison paperwork, the fellow wasn't able to walk out of the gate until after 9:00AM so I sat and waited.
For the guy I was picking up, his day began hours earlier. He said he woke up at 4:00AM, nervous and anxious to get on with his life. He was given a set of clothing that was several sizes too big, but at least no longer an orange jumpsuit; he was happy. All his possessions fit in one box. After almost three years he left with less than $65 to start a new life.
By the time he came out of the gate, both he and I were ready to get on the road. My first question: are you hungry? My experience is there is too much excitement and nervousness to want to eat immediately. He fit the profile. We drove a little over an hour before he was ready for breakfast. Because prisoners make very few decisions, consulting a menu is often a daunting task. They can be overwhelmed with all the options. My mentee, however, knew exactly what he wanted: steak and eggs. When the food arrived he gave small moans of pleasure over the taste of meat, fresh eggs, and good coffee. It was fun to watch him enjoy something so much that most of us take for granted.
Another three hours of driving put us back in Phoenix where his first stop was the parole office to check in and begin fill out more paperwork. Then, we stopped by the main office of Alongside Ministries so he could meet the staff and be welcomed home. Next was a trip to the thrift store run by the ministry to get him several sets of clothing to supplement all he owned: one set of poor-fitting clothes he left the prison in.
Finally, I took him to his new home for the next six months, a complex of apartments also run by the ministry. He will attend daily classes on re-entering society, staying strong in his faith, financial basics, and being a Christan man. Church services and time to bond with the other men who live at the complex will also fill his calendar.
After a day or so of experiencing the feeing of freedom will come one of his biggest challenges: finding a job. Even during a strong economy, ex-cons have a tough time becoming employed. Unfortunately, most of society takes the view that once a felon, always a felon. There is rarely much in the way of forgiveness or giving someone a fresh start. Is it surprising so many released people (men and women) end up back behind bars? With few people hiring them, and even fewer willing to rent an apartment to them, we make it almost impossible for someone to stay on the right path. Luckily for my mentee, Alongside Ministries is a safe haven from that type of negative stereotyping. They also maintain a list of employers willing to take a chance on someone. But, believe me, that is rare indeed.
My role as his mentor is to help him stay focused on his goals, give him love and support, and help him develop good decision-making skills. I am not his daddy and not his parole officer. As long as it isn't something illegal or that breaks the policies of Alongside, if he decides to make what I consider a less-than-ideal choice I cannot (and would not) prevent him from doing so.
Like the rest of us, he will learn from experience about consequences and short-term versus long-term choices.
We will talk on the phone several times a week and spend an hour or so together at least once a week. Those sessions are designed to allow him to work through problems and choices with me, share frustrations and joys, read the Bible together, and let him know there are people who do want him to succeed.
Like most men I meet through this program, this fellow had a rough childhood, made terrible choices involving drugs, lost his family, and sealed his short term fate. Now, he is already making steps to re-establish strong relationships with his kids, ready to move on from a toxic marriage, and become an example of what God's love can do in a human life.
When I get tired and burned out from the travel and commitments of time and energy I remind myself what I am able to witness: a human life that was relegated to the trashcan, being turned around and put on a productive path.
There is nothing I could do with my time that has a better payoff.
|prison in our rear view mirror|