Sharing a lifeline with inmates
Prisoners learned fromyoung people, who said they learned from the prisoners.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Your basic revival service broke out late in the afternoon.
Two young girls sang up front with the guitar player and other musicians while some people in the audience tapped their feet. Many in the crowd of men and young boys and girls sat in small groups and talked softly. Others just relaxed, smiling and laughing.
Tuesday's service wasn't the stereotypical prison scene, but the program at Corrections Corporation of America's Northeast Ohio Corrections Center wasn't typical.
About the meeting: It was a meeting of the minds and faith of Christian and Muslim graduates of NOCC's LifeLine program and young members in the World Changers, a student mission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
For the fourth year, almost 300 World Changers are in Youngstown this week doing home repairs and other construction.
The Rev. George Siler, pastor of First Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and the local project coordinator, said this may be the first time World Changers has dipped into prison ministry.
About 10 youths and young adults were at the prison Monday on the city's East Side. They'll return Thursday and Friday. Among other things, they tell their stories to the prisoners.
"It puts their faith on the line. They have to share what they believe," said the Rev. Mr. Siler.
Program's goal: LifeLine's goal is to keep its inmates from returning to prison. Most LifeLine members at the prison have completed the one-year course and are finishing serving their sentences.
Eugene Pendleton, LifeLine's coordinator, said he has worked in prisons in Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma, and the prisoners from Washington, D.C. -- like those at NOCC -- were said to be the most difficult. Pendleton said he finds them "more challenging."
LifeLine, he said, is all about having a sense of structure. Prisoners can have physical and mental structure in their lives but won't make it without spiritual structure, Pendleton said.
Most LifeLine members are Christian; others are Muslim. During one break Tuesday, three Muslims removed their shoes and knelt on mats to pray.
Pendleton said the program tells prisoners to believe in the "God of your understanding."
Helping out: Once prisoners are released, there are three churches in Washington, D.C., that help with jobs, transportation, clothes and other needs. The World Changers visit grew from contacts between the prison staff and other local residents involved in the renovation ministry.
When prisoners are released, Pendleton said, they are told, "The world hasn't changed. You have."
One of those is Jesse Hamilton, 29, who will be released in a month after completing an assault and weapons possession sentence.
Hamilton said LifeLine, "Helped me a lot. For so long, I got tied up in words and used to fly off the handle."
He figured he'd take what's officially a behavior modification program to make the parole board happy. The parole board didn't buy it -- twice.
"First I was doing it for them. Then I was doing it for me," said Hamilton.
Learning lessons: Digging down, he unearthed his anger and learned how to loosen up, show respect and how to communicate, he said. Respect and other values in the program are posted around LifeLine's meeting room.
Hamilton said he had a problem with authority. The former Catholic altar boy said church is again a priority. He's learned to listen to people, including the World Changers youths.
Hamilton has five children, his wife, Peggi, and a job waiting. The family plans a trip to Walt Disney World in August.
Still, Hamilton said he sometimes has trouble talking to his daughter. One of the girls from World Changers explained how she has trouble talking to her parents.
"From her, I learned ways I can talk with my daughter," said Hamilton.
Involved in group: Tynisha Williams, 18, of Philadelphia, is in her second year in World Changers.
"I'm interested in construction. I'm also interested in serving others as well as God," she said.
Williams said it was her "first time up close and personal" with prisoners, but she now felt she could talk to them as easily as one of her friends.
Society, Williams said, tends, "To look down on criminals. We don't get a change to sit down and speak with them."
The difference is to see them not as bad people but as people who made bad choices, she said.
Noted the signs on the wall, such as "Spirituality" and "Goals," Williams said, "They possess those words."
Lydia Hickman, 15, of Houston, Texas, one of the girls singing at the end of the service, said she was surprised to find the Muslims knew so much about Christianity compared with her limited knowledge of Islam.
"This is truly awesome," she said.