By: Katie Sobiech
It was 7:15 a.m. on Monday, June 23rd in Delaware Ohio. The sun was out after an early morning rain as a handful of volunteers with True North Ministries left their hotel for the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility – a prison known for holding the worst female juvenile offenders in the state of Ohio.
Conversations on the drive down included an array of topics, such as the seriousness of the crimes committed by inmates over the past several years. Murder and rape were at the top of the list; most of the details too disturbing to describe.
Once a year for the past four years, True North ministry volunteers have come together to reach out to approximately 100 girls at a time in the Scioto facility, bringing them the message of hope in Christ. Each year they minister from Monday through Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., featuring several sessions titled Beauty, Chill, Make It, Work It, Perform It, Evening and Pampering, and then have a special banquet.
With each new day, the girls are required to attend four different sessions. Each session carries its own theme; Beauty focusing on inward beauty and letting go of the past, Chill allowing the girls to reflect and discuss different topics, Make It providing the opportunity to use their creativity to make crafts, and Work It, to play games, get involved in activities and get physically active.
By attending all four sessions all three days, the girls earn stamps which are their ticket to the banquet at the end of the week. And no one wants to miss the banquet. One inmate described it as looking like “a wedding, or prom”.
“We transform the gymnasium into an absolute banquet hall and it’s amazing,” Becky Retzer, True North’s Director smiled with excitement.
The best part is that the girls are involved in planning the banquet, and they have a say in everything from the decorations to the food.
This is the girl’s least favorite session. During Monday’s Work It session, a fitness instructor motivated the girls by sharing the importance of working out; wrapping it up with a small work out session which included running, jump roping, and stretching. The girls were anything but excited when they found out that they were actually going to have to get their heart beating above its normal rate. “Do we have to do this?” one laughed, as if it were a joke!
Some acted as if they hadn’t ever worked out before. But they did it – laughing and complaining all at the same time.
On the first day of this session, each girl was given a t-shirt with a flower on the front and a butterfly on the back which read “The Ultimate Makeover”, along with a variety of colorful markers to use to personalize their shirts.
They seemed to enjoy using their creativity to customize their shirts; except for one girl. Frustrated with her coloring skills, she looked at her shirt angrily, saying it was ugly, and crumbled it in a ball, and threw it down on the table. Security escorted her out.
Some of the girls asked the volunteers to help them color because they were insecure about whether or not they were doing a good job. Others needed help because they couldn’t color in the lines.
Each year, the Beauty session focuses on inner beauty, bringing in a guest speaker to share her testimony. This year’s speaker was Shanda Lynn Grubbs, a woman who refuses to let her cerebral palsy, and the fact that she’s in a wheelchair, stop her from fulfilling Gods purpose for her life. She shared her heart, humor, and the miracles that God has done in her life with the girls, showing them that with God, all things are possible.
Grubbs was able to relate to them, comparing being in a wheelchair to being in prison.
“I may be disabled on the outside, but not on the inside,” she said, encouraging them to press past their circumstances and reach for their goals.
The truth is that these girls are facing difficult issues. Most of them come from broken homes where they have had to take on adult responsibilities. They’ve experienced abuse, neglect, and poverty. With so much pain bottled up inside, many feel the need for some sort of release, leading them to a “hobby” that is widespread and very popular in prisons – cutting.
This is a huge issue, and something that you can’t help but notice when looking at many of the girls. Most of their arms were covered with protruding scars due to this destructive habit. One girl’s arm looked completely disfigured it was so full of scars; you couldn’t see one inch of untouched skin.
Others find a release in writing poetry, or documenting their feelings in a diary. One girl handed a volunteer her notebook which was filled with poems straight from her heart. After reading a poem about her grandma she said, “I used to cut myself, but I stopped because my grandma told me to. She was worried about me.”
For many of the girls, their grandmothers are a very important part of their lives, even more so than their mothers. Sometimes grandma is all that they have.
“If my grandma dies I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said, her eyes filled with hopelessness.
On Thursday, every girl that got all of her stamps was able to attend the Pampering session, which included getting a hand massage, her hair, makeup, and nails done. The gymnasium was transformed into a beautiful banquet hall, and The Vineyard Church brought photographers so that the girls could get their photos taken in their dresses.
They plan to print 1 Peter 3:3-4 on each one of their photos, which reads “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”
They are also given a colorful Bible with a place to put their photo in the front.
“I could get a typical paperback prison Bible,” Retzer explained, “but everything we do for this ministry we want to go above and beyond. This is special, and it’s a joy to be able to give them something nice.”
On the big night the girls were announced one by one and escorted to their seats by male volunteers. They also had a buffet for dinner, bringing in different foods from area restaurants. This year’s menu included salad from the Olive Garden, biscuits from Red Lobster, chicken, macaroni and cheese (the girls favorite), and a special desert.
Although this is an amazing outreach – it is a short term mission. The Ultimate Makeover plants the seeds, but it’s important that they are watered so that they can grow, and that is why Retzer has developed her mentoring program as well as other outreaches for follow up.
The mentoring program provides the opportunity for the youth in several prisons in Ohio to meet regularly with someone so that they can grow.
The ministry also offers opportunities, such as Tuesday night Bible studies at the Juvenile Center on Dan Street, addiction recovery classes, and Friday night movies at the Juvenile Center.
They are in need of Christians who are willing to give just a couple of hours each week.
“It’s just being there for him or her,” Retzer explained, “and what’s neat about this is that there’s a mission field right here.”
To become a volunteer or mentor please contact Becky Retzer at (330) 848-0454 or visit: http://www.truenorthministry.org/