God’s love for inmates and ex-offenders
by Laureen F. Guenther
After-Care Ministries brings love in God’s name to inmates and ex-offenders of Calgary’s provincial correctional facilities.
Showing love in many ways
The volunteer-run organization hosts weekly chapel services for inmates at Calgary Correctional Centre, and chapels for men and women at Calgary Remand Centre. John Hiscox, After-Care’s Executive Director, says about ten volunteers host a chapel, and 12-20 inmates attend.
After-Care provides Bibles, books and study materials to both institutions. When an inmate is released, they offer clothing and hygiene items.
The ministry has a room at Victory Manor Housing, where newly-released inmates can stay until longer-term arrangements are made. “We now have the ability to pick someone right up from the doors when they get released and bring them right to a room,” Hiscox says. Without that support, many ex-offenders are on their own until they find accommodation. “And they all fall through the cracks.”
For ex-offenders and people in at-risk lifestyles, volunteers offer Bible studies, and mentoring and discipleship groups, in churches and at the Dream Centre.
Love is practical
According to Hiscox, dysfunctional relationships have caused the chaos in many inmates’ lives. That often leads to addiction, which may destroy a person’s ability to have a job and family life.
“Drug use leads to a lot of failure, hurt and pain, which leads to more drug use, which leads to having to fund your habit.”
“From a young age, they’ve just functioned out of a lot of wounds and a lot of hurt and a lot of rage and that has kept them from maturing in their character and so that’s why they’re in jail,” he says. “It’s not just enough to say you’ve got to be a good person. (We help them learn) this is how we function. This is how we do life.”
Hiscox explains that not all inmates have dysfunctional backgrounds. Some are good family men, including Christians, who just “fell off the track”.
Yet every inmate may long for the same thing. “The biggest thing a lot of these guys want to know is that you actually care about them,” he says. “You want to care, and you want to share your life with them. That, I think, is what these guys are craving.”
Love changes lives
That caring can change their lives. “I have literally seen guys change in an hour, from being very angry to almost crying, because we’ve listened to them, and something we said connected to them,” Hiscox says.
He’s also seen long-term change. “We’ve seen gang members leave their gangs,” he says. “We’ve seen people cut ties, burn bridges to what had been their life. We’ve seen people fight through addictions and commit to treatment. It’s pretty amazing to see a life completely change for the better.”
That changes the volunteers too. “Seeing this and walking through this really deepens our faith, and brings us a lot of joy,” Hiscox says. “And a lot of incentive and motivation to keep praying and to keep looking for ways that we can keep supporting these guys, these men and women.”
We’re called to love too
But the need is great, and Hiscox hopes the ministry will expand further. He’d like to take programs into federal facilities, and he wants to expand After-Care’s housing for newly-released ex-offenders.
He also wants to let the rest of God’s family know about After-Care. “One of our goals is to get out into more churches, and let people know what we’re doing,” he says. “And in the process, bring some of the (ex-offenders) with us.”
Love through prayer
“I would have people pray that God’s Spirit would be very alive and active in the prisons,” Hiscox explains, because they’re such difficult environments. “But in the midst of that, God’s at work and hearts are being changed.”
He also requests prayer for practical help. “That He would continue to bring into After-Care, volunteers who have the right heart and the right calling from God to minister to these men and women. It’s always good to pray for financial support as well.”