Tuesday, June 12, 2007

End of the First "New Man" Prison Class

Last night ended what, Lord willing, will have been only the first "New Man" prison class. I started the "class" around four months ago. It was hard to see most of the 20-odd men for what will likely be the last time.

It's a little less painful at this unit relative to the other unit I visit, because this is a transition unit -- most of the men are within six months of exiting the system (although almost all continue on parole when released). So even if I taught an open-ended class, almost all of the men would be gone within a month or two anyway. Still, I will miss seeing the guys on Monday nights.

More than just missing them on Monday nights, though, is that the guys will be getting out. This is a time of joy -- they've completed their prison sentences -- but it is also daunting. Recidivism statistics are horribly high. These men will leave a church situation that is vibrant and supportive, and be faced with the loss of their support system just at the point that they need it most. Many outside churches are not hospitable toward ex-offenders. Some of this fear is understandable -- many of these men are in prison for intensely wicked behavior. Nonetheless, it places huge demands on the spiritual maturity of the ex-offender to lose his church at just the point that he faces about as much stress as life can throw at a person -- finding a job, a place to live, a new social environment, reuniting with his family, all at the same time he loses the known, if not comfortable, pattern of daily life on the inside.

So it's a tough time. Statistically I understand that within just a few years, most of the men I see before me -- joyful, solid Christians -- will be back in prison, unable successfully to have negotiated the free world without returning to old patterns of violence and/or addiction.

Please, Lord, let none of these men return. Hear my prayer!

In any event, I'm planning to take a break through the summer. With young kids at home it's difficult to spend two nights a week, every week, away from the family. It's a bit too much. So, Lord willing, I'll continue on Tuesday nights until the ends of the current class, then start another "New Man" class in September.

I'm not knocking off entirely after mid-summer, however. Starting in July I'm scheduled to begin helping the chaplain with his office work in the unit where I lead the "New Man" class. Aside from the fact that he needs help with paperwork, I would like to get a better sense of what the institutional environment that the guys face in prison, and see if I can get a better sense of the administrative dynamics in the prison system. I hope that working in the chaplain's office will give me a richer understanding of the everyday life of the men, of the institution, and of the larger prison bureaucracy. I'm hoping that what I learn will allow me to understand the guys' situtions inside the prison a little better, and so help me better to understand where they're coming from when, Lord willing, I start the new "New Man" class in the fall.


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