September is National Recovery Month. This national observance is held to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.
One area of recovery that is not often discussed is the process and community surrounding individuals and families recovering from incarceration. When we look at the statistics and how mass incarceration impacts our nation, we must pause and ask if this “solution” to crime is helping us or just snowballing into a more significant issue for Americans of all demographics.
According to recent data, “formerly incarcerated people experience mental health and substance abuse disorders at disproportionate rates once released. Often, they carry a multitude of psychological damages caused by their time incarcerated, referred to as post-traumatic prison disorder (PTPD). PTPD symptoms include distrust, emotional numbing, flashbacks, decreased self-esteem, issues with subordination, and more.”
The United States is not only the country with the highest incarceration rate worldwide, but it is also home to the most significant number of prisoners. Roughly 2.2 million people were incarcerated in the U.S. in 2020.
This blog post isn’t to challenge the prison industrial complex, politics, or the laws that we have in place. The point of this blog is to raise awareness for this overlooked community impacted by incarceration. Our heart is to explore tangible ways to become the proud community and dedicated support systems that we know are needed to recover from any traumatic experience.
When we challenge ourselves to be the hands and feet of Jesus and come alongside individuals and families facing the genuine struggles of life during and after prison, there are a couple of truths that we must cling to as we engage with this community.
WE HAVE DIRECT ORDERS FROM GOD TO SUPPORT THIS COMMUNITY
“I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.’ ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:36, 40)
As the Body of Christ, we are called to advocate and come alongside this community. It is our job to recognize and affirm their humanity in a system that says otherwise. Our job is to ensure that this community knows that there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God.
We put this into practice with our Jail Outreach where inmates in Los Angeles are discipled, encouraged and befriended by Dream Center staff and volunteers through weekly visits and mentorship, Bible studies and church services. Many inmates are given the chance to go through our one-year Discipleship (Recovery) program as a prison alternative and find that the community and program allows for better change and growth.
OUR PAST DOESN’T DISQUALIFY US FROM PURPOSE
People recovering and reacclimating back into the world are bombarded with constant reminders of the past, with little to no consideration for the change that may have taken place during their prison sentence.
Every job application, housing application, etc., comes with a constant acknowledgment of who they used to be. When the world reminds this community of failure, we must stand flat-footed on the Word that declares freedom and a new identity in Christ.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
We may not be able to save our brother and sister from the consequences of their actions; however, we can be a constant reminder that in Christ, there is freedom from resorting to the thinking that landed them in prison in the first place.
We know that individuals who have difficulty finding employment, housing, and essential resources will eventually resort back to a life of crime to make ends meet. The renewing of the mind is vital to the success of the person recovering from incarceration, and it is the only way imprisonment doesn’t become a lifelong cycle.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
INCARCERATION IMPACTS THE ENTIRE FAMILY
Statistics surrounding this community often focus on the individual incarcerated — when the reality is, prison impacts the entire family. Here are some things we must consider:
- We must consider the parent who is now raising children alone.
- We must consider the physiological and social strain that a child has to process to visit and maintain communication with an incarcerated parent.
- We must consider the innocence of the children who carry the emotional burden of their parents’ mistakes.
- We must share in this burden.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)
Let’s not stumble like the world and let our opinions and politics divide us on reaching the lost and broken. Let’s walk in all power and authority to set the captives free through Christ Jesus. Let’s be sensitive to the ongoing trauma and pain that one may experience after incarceration. Let’s show them that there is always hope for tomorrow when we have God on our side.
Lastly, what takes $81,000 to incarcerate just one person in the prison system, takes $6,000 in comparison for one person to go through our recovery program. If you would like to help someone find the change and growth they need to transition back into society successfully, consider giving today toward our recovery programs and jail outreach so we can see more lives transformed out of the prison system and into a safe and loving community.