Here is a beautiful reflection on R&R Ministry by Ira Mueller, member of Duke Chapel faith team. Enjoy!

I first learned about the Religious Coalition about 8 years ago, back when I prided myself on being rather smart and knowing how to make safe and finite commitments. As a member of the Congregation at Duke Chapel, I had volunteered to help provide Sunday evening dinner for Keith Daniel and his PathWay fellows. For those of you not familiar with the PathWays program at Duke – students live and work and volunteer in Durham’s West End while discerning God’s call for their future.

So I go over to Lyon Park this Sunday evening with my contribution for dinner for 15, and Keith invites me to stay and hear the speaker, a Marcia Owen. Well – there is absolutely nothing SAFE about Marcia Owen! She has a way of drilling right into your heart and soul. I still clearly remember that evening – being blown away by her energy, her love, and her faith, and her desire to witness God’s grace and healing in the more violent settings in Durham.

It took me a couple more years to join Duke Chapel’s re-entry faith team. It’s now been 6 ½ years and I can’t imagine life without the team and our partners.

Today I want to share with you an experience our team had this past December. We love to get together, and we started a tradition years ago of planning a special gathering – a dinner, outdoor barbeque, or a potluck lunch after attending The Chapel together – and we try to do this several times a year. All of our former partners and their significant others or friends are invited to come, so it’s like a family reunion. Of course, once a partner, always a partner and like family, we have those who stay in more regular contact and those that just pop up from time to time. And, if we haven’t heard from a partner in too long – we go looking for them 

We always try to have one of these gatherings around the Christmas holiday and they’ve become even more fun as our family has grown year by year – and our friendships with our partners have deepened with time.
So this December we were blessed to have around the table – in addition to our current faith team members – Cubby who now lives back at home in Winston-Salem (and her friend), Zachary, Elvis, Drew (who double dips as a former re-entry partner and now ongoing team member), Von and his wife, and our current partner who brought his sister.

At some point in the lunch, Jim Wisner, one of our team members, thought to ask each of our re-entry partners to give us an update on what’s going on in their lives. What we received was so amazing – it was so much more than Jim requested. One by one our partners stood and talked about:
The road they traveled to incarceration
Their time and experiences in prison
What it felt like coming out of prison and what has happened to them since – and their hope for the future.

And, lastly, they talked about what it meant to have the friendship, fellowship and support of our Faith Team as a constant in their lives. They reminded us of what we’d heard from each of them individually over the years – but this time we heard in a glorious and harmonious chorus – that our friendship and support had made a difference and was greatly valued.
We sat at that lunch table in mid-December until around 3:30 in the afternoon. I had other things I’d intended to do that day, and I’m sure others did too. But we didn’t budge! We learned bits and pieces of our beloved partner’s life journeys that day that we’d never known – all shared in the safety and love of our faith and fellowship. It felt like family – and God’s unconditional love was palpable among us. It was obvious that each partner was encouraged and empowered by the presence of others who had shared somewhat similar difficulties and mistakes and experiences in their past.

We, the Faith Team members, had come that day so pleased with a cash gift that we’d collected for each partner. But we agreed afterward that their gift to us was beyond priceless and for each one of us – the very best gift of the holiday season. Our partners honored us – by sharing their tough and personal journeys, by sharing the highs and lows since leaving prison. And we all know that there are lows – with often frustratingly limited opportunities for individuals with felony records. But it’s amazing how each one focused on the successes and joys. And they affirmed to us the value of our friendship and support.

I love each of our partners, including the few who didn’t complete their year with us and with whom we’ve lost touch. Yet as I was preparing these remarks, I felt somewhat guilty that I hadn’t reached out to each and every one in the last month. But that’s the beauty of a team – like family, we don’t promise perfection. And when one of us gets distracted, another hopefully steps in. And I do believe they all know that we’re here if there’s a need. Not necessarily with a fix, but with compassion and support.
When searching for the words to describe this re-entry ministry and how it has affected me and forced me to grow, I choose to cite just 2 of the Ten Gleanings that Marcia Owen shares in the last chapter of her and Sam Well’s book Living Without Enemies. And they are –
My soul is for all, because my soul is with all. We are all one in God.
Healing is God’s greatest mystery. I can’t explain it. I can’t avoid it.

Learn about reentry on NPR’s STATE OF THINGS. CLICK HERE

Facts about Incarceration and Reentry

  • Within 3 years after leaving prison 66% of former inmates are re-arrested
  • About 50% are convicted
  • 80% of prisoners report a history of drug or alcohol abuse

Inmates considered for Reentry Program

  • 101
  • Average age 28
  • 100% Male
  • 93% African American
  • 93% referred for Substance Abuse Treatment
  • 50% had no GED or High School Diploma

Reentry provides a tremendous opportunity for change and renewal for faith community members and released prisoners. To begin a newly-directed life, released inmates have intangible needs such as re-adjusting to an environment requiring more responsibility and self-determination and many tangible needs such as:

  • Finding a place to live
  • Finding and maintaining a job with a living wage
  • Avoiding substance abuse
  • Forming and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Connecting with community resources
  • Re-connecting with family
  • Finding positive activities to fill spare time

Reconciliation and Reentry (R&R) Ministry

The Reconciliation and Reentry (R&R) Ministry is one-year covenantal Partnership between individuals recently released from prison and congregational faith teams of 5-10 members to help the offender and the Durham community reconnect and restore wholeness to one another.

Principles of R&R Ministry

• All people have strengths

• Supportive teams can help identify and enhance strengths/limit impact of weaknesses

• Offenders reentering our community need and deserve support

• A Faith Team can model good behaviors to help Partner reclaim life

• Faith Team members and community learn and prosper for R&R process as much as offender

• Reconciliation and successful reentry happen when all participants recognize the transformative power of loving and compassionate acts

Community Support

The CJRC operates through partnerships with community agencies such as the Criminal Justice System, Community Corrections, and Human Service providers. The mission of its program is to offer structured programming for offenders to modify behavior patterns that lead to criminal activity. Durham Congregations In Action will provide access to the larger faith community and its resources.

The CJRC provides housing for those without place to stay; job training and placement; treatment services (behavioral, drug abuse); drug testing; monitoring. Working with CJRC assures R&R that:

• Ex-offender is drug free and is monitored

• Ex-offender is screened and approved for participation

• Ex-offender and Faith Team are knowledgeable about services available.

Building a Faith Team

A Faith Team is a group of 4-6 volunteers who provide practical, emotional and spiritual support to a person newly-released from prison. Faith Team members are required to attend a training to participate in the R&R Ministry. The training will explain the Ministry’s principles, procedures and team approach to care. Once a faith team is formed, the training will establish the key relationships between the offender, faith team members, Criminal Justice Resource Center staff and R&R coordinator. Your congregation will also be asked to evaluate its interest in restorative justice and to assess your congregations’ current strengths and resources before forming a Faith Team. The partners will enter into an agreement that specifies what they are each to do, where they can get help, the length of the covenant, the process of mediating differences, and the expectations of the partners.

Training is conducted by the R&R Coordinator and a professional from the Criminal Justice Resource Center. The Criminal Justice Resource Center is a Department of Durham County Government and is under the advisement of the Criminal Justice Partnership Advisory Board.

Building the Partnership

CJRC will screen potential partners and make recommendations based on FT profile

R&R Coordinator and Faith Team will meet to discuss potential partners and decide who is most suitable FCC, FT and potential Partner meet at church and get to know one another.

Partner and Faith Team will then assess separately with R&R Coordinator their desire to pursue partnership. If partnership is desired then CJRC Manager, R&R Coordinator, Faith Team and Partner will meet again to commit to covenantal relationship of one year, review CJRC case plan, and begin working with Partner to:

• Assess strengths and needs,

• Reflect critically on how partner arrived at present situation,

• Determine goals and priorities to reach goal of law-abiding self-reliance.

• Set up regular schedule of contact with Partner and FT

Faith Team Members choose a Leader who is responsible for scheduling Team Meetings and coordinating the care provided by Faith Team members. Other team members may coordinate transportation, special events, literacy and employment support, financial planning, or prayer support depending on needs of the Partner.

Partner Liaison would be in weekly contact with Partner to review plan, goal, needs for support from coordinators and other service providers. Coordinators would be in contact with Partner on an as needed basis.

Faith Team should meet with Partner at least twice a month as a group. Special events (birthdays, holidays, new job) and service projects (Habitat for Humanity, Urban Ministries, Vigils) would provide additional opportunities for interaction.

The R&R Ministry will provide quarterly meetings for supplemental training, to discuss progress and obstacles, and to share your experiences with other Faith Teams.

Faith partnerships restore wholeness through acts of mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Please build a team!