By Daniel R. Gangler
INDIANAPOLIS - His first release was from the Pendleton Correctional Facility northeast of Indianapolis in March 2006. His second release came a year later from the Faith Care Team of Wesley United Methodist Church on the west-side of Indianapolis.
Both were fearful experiences as Buddy Stapleton began his interdependent life as a former prison inmate and became a productive citizen of Indianapolis. His future success, of not re-entering a correctional facility, has been pushed high by his year-long experience with the Wesley congregation. Stapleton was under the care of the church's Faith Care Team as a "neighbor" from April 2006 until this past summer when the team was decommissioned following a year of direct service.
DeeEllen Davis, Wesley's team leader, told faith and community leaders about her church's success with Stapleton during the second annual celebration this summer of the Faith in Community Ministry program. She said the past year has been a challenging but satisfying one for the team and Wesley congregation.
"At times it was like a roller coaster with ordinary people, listening, communicating and building a relationship with Buddy," explained Davis. "He still needs us."
Stapleton became a member at Wesley UMC within weeks of his orientation with the Faith Care Team.
Davis explained that Stapleton now boards in a private home and works as a parts-delivery driver. He continues to be part of the neighborhood and active in the church. He could not be part of the celebration, because it occurred during day-time working hours.
"It takes a leader to say 'you do this' with grace and dignity," said Davis. "Not everyone on the team finished the year."
Pleased with team
Dave Gushee, a private citizen who rents a room in his home to Stapleton, said he was pleased with Wesley's team for remaining true to their commitment.
"They were dealing with stressful situations and a big change in Stapleton's life. Buddy still struggles with relationships but he is more open to talk about it and has a willingness and desire to cope with life. Not all coming out of prison are so. Not all are open to faith community experiences," said Gushee.
Upon his release, the Wesley team paid for Stapleton's cell phone with limited minutes, provided initial transportation, helped him meet parole requirements and became advocates for him with the social service system. They also helped him establish residence, assisted his learning about community resources, and getting and keeping employment.
Davis advised faith communities to enlist a team of eight to twelve volunteers with a coordinator. "Have a leap of faith to get going," she said. "You don't need a social worker to head up the program. Just do it."
Mary Z. Longstreth, a South Indiana Conference diaconal minister and Director of the Faith in Community Ministry for the Choices, Inc. and United Methodist Church partnership project, told the leaders, "A sense of accountability is very important to the vision (of re-entering past offenders into society)."
Wesley UMC was the ministry's first faith team and a successful one, according to Longstreth. "Our goal is to generate as many teams as we can," she said.
The Faith Care Team ministry is divided into three phases: in prison relationship building through mentoring, community re-entry, and reintegration and reconciliation.
Dovetails with PLUS
The program dovetails with the Indiana Department of Correction's re-entry programming entitled, PLUS, which stands for Purposeful Living Units Serve. Inmates who take part with Faith in Community Ministry are volunteers who have completed programming offered through one of the PLUS units. PLUS is a 16-month transition program in which inmates choose to learn from either character-based or faith-based materials.
Dalton Haney, media contact of Indiana Department of Correction's reentry educational facility at Plainfield, says 23,000 inmates are released each year in Indiana. In Marion County alone that is 47-a-day and more than 47 percent of them return to prison. Statistic's show more than 96 percent of incarcerated people will be coming back to the community.
The level of local criminal activity, public safety and well-being in community life is directly impacted by the availability of support needed to assist an offender's re-entry. Securing adequate employment income, housing, and positive social relationships, are the most critical factors for successful community reintegration.
The Plainfield Re-Entry Educational Facility at Plainfield has a staff of 118 employees and 224 volunteers to provide 450 inmates a program to assist them in re-entering society. It's the only one of its kind in the country. The United Methodist Church is one of 14 partners in the facility's life skills enrichment and faith-based programs.
The purpose of the facility, in its own words, "is to continue to maintain public safety while providing residents the skills required for successful re-integration into the community and ultimately reduce the rate of recidivism."
For more information about sponsoring a faith care team in your congregation or alternative activities to serve community re-entry needs, contact Mary Z. Longstreth at 317-205-8255 or by e-mail at email@example.com.