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Prison Fellowship’s Bridge Programs Offer Support

June 28, 2013

Charles Colson recently (April 20th, 2013) left us to go home to his Father.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/aprilweb-only/chuck-colson-dead.html His life was a beacon that shined brightly for many that would never have given one single thought about those that sit in our prisons and jails throughout this country. Chuck Colson touched many lives both in person and through his prolific writing. He never failed to give his attention to his Savior, he never lost focus. The inspiration that he provided for many that have been incarcerated has been a true blessing. It is for that reason that I sought out his organization Prison Fellowship, first when I was sitting in a jail in 2008 and then again when I relocated here to Arizona.

My first experience with Prison Fellowship was not a great one. I received a form letter response that told me they wished me well and gave me a couple of places that I could write to and maybe they could help me. The Lord was with me and I did not lose hope, become discourage or think ill of the organization, I instead followed a path that lead me to New Person Ministries and the genuine love and fellowship that I found abounding there.

When I moved to Arizona in February I felt strongly that God did not want me to abandon my desire to help those that are behind bars and that are coming back into society. I understand that many have undergone a transformation like I did and they will be greeted by a society that is not anything like what they have been experiencing regarding the fellowship and passion for a relationship with our God. Behind those walls and barbed wire life is almost a monastic experience where there are men that are spending four or more hours of each day dedicated to Bible study and meditation on God.

When they return the culture shock can be overwhelming and a support system is needed. I think that I have been shown a model that will help provide a connection between the returning citizen and the world that he finds himself residing in when he is released. This need can be met by what Prison Fellowship calls Bridge Teams. These are groups of people that work within a congregation and take the responsibility to come along side of the returning citizen and provide him with a means of successful reentry. This program does not take the place of transition homes or other programs designed to help provide a safe haven and opportunity for renewal, it is designed to augment it and support those types of programs.

A transition home is a great thing for many and if it is run correctly it will provide a “family” structure that many that have lashed out through antisocial behavior have never experienced. A faith based transition home is a beautiful thing, but it is a transition home and as such has limits on what it can do. The Bridge Team provides complimenting services that help fill gaps that transition homes find it difficult to provide in many cases. Additionally, a transition home is designed to be a temporary solution, a starting point, not a destination. The Bridge Team provides a means to assist the returning citizen to take the steps toward their destination whatever that is supposed to be.

The Bridge Team begins their involvement with an inmate while they are awaiting their release some 12 to 18 months in the future. Their first interaction is through the mail and they provide the individual with general information about their church community and attempt to find out information about the inmate and their situation. Eventually, there will be in prison meetings and these meetings help to develop the sense of trust and fellowship that will be needed in order for the returning citizen to be successful.

When the inmate is released there is at least one representative of the Bridge Team there to meet them. They have individuals that volunteer to provide transportation for the returning citizen. There is also a mentor or a mentor team that will be there to provide encouragement and accountability. The returning citizen is brought into the church as a welcomed member, not a lost soul in the last row of pews. The need to provide a social network that is there to nurture the young seedling that God has growing in our spiritual garden. We are not here to fix this person or to run their life for them but we are do is to show God’s love in whatever way we can.

The key to a successful reentry is the faith that God will not leave your side. As a person that is experiencing life after jail I know that there are times when things just don’t seem to go well. An additional key to success is to remember that life is that way for all of us. God is in control and we have all the information and cannot see His plan. We are fortunate to be included at any level and I believe that one of the ways that we can be sure that we are included as participant in His purpose is to spend time with believers both new and mature. Celebrate the fellowship in which we are encouraged to participate.

Extend the hand and the cool cup of water to those that thirst.

http://www.prisonfellowship.org/programs/reentry/bridge-churches/

Cliff Balson – (aka C Adrian Balson) is a resident of Arizona and the author of the book “Onward Christian Salesman” ©copyright Clifford Adrian Balson 2013. Since his release from jail in 2008 he has worked in the areas of support of those that have been incarcerated. It is his hope that he can become active once again in helping those returning to society. Cliff also spends his time writing both on his blog and his second book which will be available by the end of the 2013.

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