admin | 9/10/2011, 3:44 p.m.

Prison ministries offer needed support, guidance for incarcerated

For most Christian ministries, service generally requires only a time commitment and a good attitude. Rarely does such commitment require faithful servants to surround themselves with people who have been convicted of crimes from robbery to murder.Yet for those who serve in prison ministries, such environments are normal. Some prison ministry volunteers have also described feeling a personal connection to the work and inmates. From the first moment that I stepped on the compound, it just felt like this was the place for me, said Patricia Glover, a member of the Kairos Prison Ministry International. Glover, who is also the columnist for the Miami Times Spiritually Speaking, has worked in prison ministry for 21 years. And with America boasting one of the highest prison populations in the industrialized world, it is fortunate that there are those who do extend themselves to minister to the incarcerated. Statewide, according to Floridas Department of Correction, there were 102,232 inmates present in the Florida prison system as of June 30, 2010, the most current record available. Of those, the majority were males, 93 percent. Blacks made up 49.3 percent of that population. Reverend LaTousha Daniels was inspired to found Grace in Motion, the prison outreach division of LD Ministries, six years ago partly because of a pattern that she began to observe among inmates. There were so many of the inmates that looked like me, she recalled. I saw so many that looked like my sister, my cousin, my mother. But beyond the familiar faces, Daniels saw something else. I saw a lot of hunger and the need for ministry, she said. Now Daniels and an estimated 50 volunteers for Grace in Motion visit prisons throughout the state of Florida their home base is the state facility for women, Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala.

A person bound, a person in need

Like churches, every prison ministry has different goals and programs for participants. For example, Brother Job Israel of Job Israel Ministries in Miami, wants his fledgling prison ministry to address the spiritual needs of members of the Hebrew Israelites sect who are incarcerated because nobody is coming to help them study. [Job Israel Ministries will be] going into the prison and teaching the Bible, explained Israel, once his ministry begins to visit local correctional facilities. In addition to spiritual needs, inmates often have their own issues unique to that population that need to be addressed. In Glovers prison ministry experience she says she often sees inmates who have negative life philosophies. Its really a problem with attitude more than anything else, she said. The attitude that either they cant do it because theyve been told that or that their failure is actually attributable to someone else relieving them from fault are the major attitudes inmates hold. Glover may have witnessed the result of behaviors that are unique to the incarcerated. Several studies have been conducted that prove that prisons often force inmates to adapt to their environment in various ways. One of the more famous adaptions is when inmates develop a dependence on institutional structure, a mode of behavior better known as institutionalization. According to one report, The Psychological Impact of Incarceration: Implications for Post-Prison Adjustment, inmates may also become hyper-vigilant, distrustful of others, socially withdrawn or psychological distant, among other coping measures. Yet once an inmate addresses these various emotional and spiritual issues to better themselves, they are still facing the lack of either viable work skills or living skills needed to survive outside of a correctional facility. Fortunately there are programs that address and provide transitional training for them.