The national recidivism rate (percentage of re-incarcerated persons) is around fifty percent. In Illinois, the number is slightly higher. From this data one could easily conclude that communities lack the resources to support individuals getting back on their feet after prison. There may be some communities for which that is true, but, by-and-large, we’ve reached a different conclusion.
We consistently hear social service providers describing programs and resources that go underutilized. This suggests that adequate assistance is available, but that people don’t know where to find it. We believe twin barriers of invisibility and isolation prevent individuals from making meaningful, supportive connections with churches and service providers.
To address these barriers, we are working with a team of web developers to create a mobile-responsive website on which to host a statewide Inside-Out Network (ION). We hope ION will bring value to the systemic landscape of prison re-entry by fostering connections that have historically been missed. ION is expected to be ready for launch by the end of June. Stay tuned!
The first weekend of May, we traveled to Philadelphia for the fifth annual Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association (CMCA) Summit. We have attended this event every year since its inception, each year hosting an exhibitor table to make our resources available to attendees. This year we had two exciting new resources to show: 1) We just published the second edition of our Spiritual Survival Guide For Prison & Beyond, and 2) Using dual laptops, we offered attendees an interactive preview of our new mobile-responsive website and Inside-Out Network (ION) (more on this in the next post).
As in previous years, the summit provided an excellent opportunity for networking and learning. We are looking forward to next year’s event, and we hope to be able to share a year’s worth of knowledge and success we’ve gained through ION!
In mid-June, the annual assembly of the ELCA Metropolitan Synod convened at the Tinley Park Convention Center. We led a workshop intended to invite and equip other local congregations to participate in prison and re-entry ministry. We also hosted a booth, distributing our Spiritual Survival Guide For Prison & Beyond and “RED Chicago” to attendees.
Participating in this year’s assembly was particularly special for us, because it was this same convening in 2012 that would turn out to be the birthplace of our Inside-Out Connections Ministry! It was exciting to return, to share what we’ve learned and reflect on the ways we’ve grown in the last four years. Praise be to God for His faithfulness and provision!
We were in Atlanta, Georgia, in May for the fourth-annual Correctional Ministry & Chaplains Association (CMCA) Summit! We enjoyed seeing familiar faces (above photo of Program Director Ben Blobaum with George Salter of Westside Health Authority) and meeting new ministry partners. We shared our vision and resources, and we learned from others in the field. We’ve attended this Summit for the past four years, and each year it has been a powerful experience, uniting us with hundreds of men and women who have discovered the privilege and the joy of working with prisoners.
September 9-11, the Coalition Of Prison Evangelists (COPE) hosted an international conference in Indianapolis, attended by our Program Director, Ben Blobaum. Ben distributed free copies of our Spiritual Survival Guide and samples of “RED Chicago” to attendees. Domestic as well as international connections were made, and cases of our Spiritual Survival Guide are currently en route to Canada and Ghana! In the photo above, Ben is pictured with Osofo Kwadwo, founder of a school for prison ministry in Ghana. The three-day conference provided opportunities for learning, networking, and mutual encouragement amongst participants.
The last week of May, our staff and lead volunteer attended the third annual CMCA (Correctional Ministry & Chaplains Association) Summit, a three-day conference, at Wheaton College. We reserved a booth and distributed free copies of our resources, and Executive Director, Fred Nelson, led a workshop on congregation-based re-entry ministry. For all, the Summit was a time of learning, networking, and fellowship.
In mid-February, Program Director, Ben Blobaum, launched a weekly Bible study in the Minimum Security Unit (MSU) at Stateville Prison. Beyond meeting the spiritual needs of inmates in the MSU, our hope is that these weekly meetings will bridge a post-release connection with our ex-offender ministry.
Our next Stateville Prison Team opportunity is scheduled for Sunday, May 17. Come and help be part of a team that prays with newly-convicted inmates and distributes copies of the Bible and the Spiritual Survival Gide for Prison and Beyond. We have to have our paperwork in early with the prison, so contact our Program Director, Ben Blobaum, now if you want to be able to go in May.
Our Program Director, Ben Blobaum, will be attending a series of Illinois Department of Corrections Re-Entry Summits at a number of downstate Illinois prisons in October, building a network of relationships with prison re-entry staff, other service providers, and inmates who are within 6 months of their parole date. Please keep Ben in your prayers.
Our Spiritual Survival Guide got a nice front-section mention in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune about hospice programs that are running inside Illinois prisons. It was encouraging to see that our book is a prominent part of their hospice library! For a link to the Tribune article, click here.