Imagine what it’s like to go decades having someone else make all your decisions for you from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed.
Then imagine – overnight – having to start making thousands of decisions a day.
That’s the reality of inmates released from Alabama’s prisons every year and it’s not an easy thing to process, said Jack Hausen, director of Shepherd’s Fold, a ministry that helps recently released men and women re-enter society after incarceration.
“We have to change their thinking to ‘how do we handle these freedoms we now have?’ It’s a reorientation process,” said Hausen, a member of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Ala. “The mentality is ‘do the crime, pay the time,’ but we (as a society) don’t do anything to rehab these people.”
That’s why Shepherd’s Fold was started – to keep these men and women from becoming part of the high percentage of former inmates who end up back behind bars.
Photo courtesy of Shepherd’s Fold
Shepherd’s Fold residents work on a Habitat for Humanity project in Birmingham's Arlington-West End community.
The ministry was started by Mary Kay Beard, a former bank robber who came to faith in Christ while incarcerated at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.
Thirty years later, Shepherd’s Fold has five houses in Birmingham’s West End area around Princeton Baptist Medical Center. Beard also started the Prison Fellowship program, Angel Tree.
High success rate
The ministry’s six-month transitional program has a high success rate – less than 1 percent of men and women who complete the program go back to prison, Hausen said.
It’s an uphill climb, he said. Most of the people who come to Shepherd’s Fold have been incarcerated for quite a while, and they show up at the ministry with very little preparation for the real world.
The ministry has a very important role to play in reducing recidivism, Hausen said, especially as prisoners are being released in larger numbers to reduce overcrowding.
“We want to make sure their fresh start is a new start,” he said.
Program participants are frequently there as part of their parole plan, so they are expected to cooperate with rules, but Shepherd’s Fold works hard to prepare them to thrive in their new freedom.
“We work to get them a license and Social Security card if they need it, as well as food stamps, clothing and a job,” he said. “All of our participants have jobs and pay us a small weekly fee. It builds their self-esteem and it prepares them to live in the community. We want to do everything we can to get them back on their feet as productive citizens.”
Recently released convicts also have to learn to function as a community within their home, planning food buying together, abiding by curfews and getting along with each other, Hausen said. “They have to learn to make good decisions. They work the plan and they plan their work.”
And hopefully at the end of six months, Shepherd’s Fold has been an environment that has prepared them for success, he said. “Our goal is to change their institutional thinking and their hearts for Christ.”
Local church involvement
Their spiritual development is a critical part of re-entry, Hausen said, which is one reason the ministry works hard to involve local churches like Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover, in the process as well as offering programs like Celebrate Recovery each week.
And churches are able to help in practical ways too, financially supporting the ministry as well as providing needed items like hygiene bags for the people in the program, he said.
“We want to take care of them like Jesus commands us – He is clear about how we are supposed to help people who are in prison,” Hausen said. “Also we want them to hear the Gospel and have it hopefully change hearts and minds for Christ and then hopefully become productive members of churches.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.)