GETTING FREE ON THE INSIDE
TO THRIVE ON THE OUTSIDE
Prison is never the starting point and very rarely the end point. The vast majority—95%—of currently incarcerated individuals will be released and attempt reentry to civilian life. The question Prison Fellowship asks is not what inmates did to get in, but who they will be when they get out—a question all of society has a vested interest in.
PUBLISHED BY STAND TOGETHER | SEPTEMBER 2019 | SHAKOPEE, MINNESOTA
(The following is an excerpt from the story published by Stand Together, a not-for-profit that is working to highlight the work of nonprofits across the country. It was a privilege to get to partner with them as the photographer for this story. To read the full story, written by Kate Schmidgall, visit:
Making no excuses for criminal acts, Prison Fellowship prioritizes the deep work needed for incarcerated individuals to reengage with society positively and effectively upon release.
They know that mistakes that define whole futures tend to follow lifetimes loaded with poverty, abuse, neglect, and all types of untreated trauma.
Familiar with their failures, detainees Amanda, Dawn, and Angelina say participating in Prison Fellowship Academy was their first chance to confront this underlying trauma and start healing.
“I have a long history of abuse of every kind and never really dealt with it,” says Amanda, age 37 and five years into her sentence. “That’s what brought me here. I heard a preacher say it’s like a puzzle—people always start with the outside pieces because that’s the easiest. And that’s what it was like for me—I never put the inside together. I just swept all those pieces into the box. Not fixing the inside is what caused me to do something horrible.”
“You cannot imagine what they lived through,” says Pamela Page, Program Manager for Prison Fellowship Academy at Shakopee, a women's correctional facility in Minnesota. “The stories that I hear are gut wrenching, what happened in those young lives. Not all, but most. The skills, compassion, mentoring, leadership, parenting that wasn't there and many just need that. I haven't seen anything like that but the Academy.”
While personal transformation is Prison Fellowship’s highest aim and deepest impact, the subsequent benefits of that work to society are much broader and more clearly quantifiable. Take, for example, the fact that it costs taxpayers more to incarcerate someone in the state of New Jersey than it does to send them to Princeton for a year. And that’s true not just in New Jersey but nationwide.
Prison Fellowship explains it this way: “Nearly 2.2 million men and women are behind bars, and more than 600,000 people are released every year—with two-thirds being rearrested within three years. The annual cost to incarcerate and reincarcerate this many people? More than $80 billion.”
Reforming to Restore
Restorative reform begins on the inside with the shifting and shaping of prison culture. The hope, of course, is that correctional environments are as rehabilitative as they are safe and secure. All the data shows that if people emerge from prison utterly unchanged, then society will bear the burden of their incarceration more than once. This is not only a financial flush but a human drain as well, as children are raised apart from parents and achievement potential goes unrealized.
“The biggest challenge is trying to get people to understand that we aren't forgetting the victims in this whole process. In no way are we trying to excuse behavior, we are just trying to prevent it from happening again,” says Tracy Beltz, Shakopee’s warden for the past eleven years.
While the insides of correctional facilities can be night and day different from city to city, state to state, the warden always sets the tone. Recognizing this, Prison Fellowship engages wardens like Tracy in an exchange program where they share experiences, challenges, and support.
“I am ultimately the one that is responsible for setting the tone, ensuring that mission is carried out,” says Warden Beltz. “And our mission is about crime reduction and safe facilities and those things go hand in hand. Continuing to make sure that people understand that, it's huge, it's everything.”
At Shakopee, Warden Beltz has been a strong proponent of and leader in modeling restorative reform. “It's easy as an officer, for example, to get locked into safety and security,” she says, “But their jobs are so much bigger and so much more important than that. The way that they interact, the way that they hold offenders accountable, the way they encourage them when they're doing the right thing, those things are so significant to our women’s ability to get out and stay out.”
Read the rest of the story: https://stories.stand-together.org/stories/prison-fellowship.
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Prison Fellowship is the world's largest Christian nonprofit organization for prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, and a leading advocate for justice reform. Their work centers on a deeply held belief that a restorative approach to prisoners, former prisoners, and all those affected by crime and incarceration can make communities safer and healthier. Through an amazing awakening to new hope and life purpose, those who once broke the law are transformed and mobilized to serve their neighbors, replacing the cycle of crime with a cycle of renewal.