By: Katie Sobiech
With their powerful testimonies, relationships with local judges, and God’s divine intervention in restoring their relationship to bring forth a ministry, Michael Starks, Director of S.L.A.A.P., and Minister Minerva Brown, Founder of Unshackled Transitional Housing, have quite a story to tell.
Unshackled Transitional Housing (UTH) was born from a vision to provide a support system for ex-offenders, including housing and the necessary tools to lead individuals towards a successful and clean lifestyle.
With two houses, UTH focuses on the whole person: body, mind and soul.
Designed specifically for ex-offenders who are ready to make changes in their lives, UTH works closely with multiple organizations to help their residents establish life skills and careers of their own.
Both homes hold up to five individuals each, although during the winter months there is often an overflow. The goal is that during their stay they will mature and come to a place of independence. The program can last anywhere from 90 days to two years, depending on the individual.
And it isn’t a free ride.
“They are responsible to contribute towards their housing, based on their income,” Brown said, “But we’ve balanced the funding so that everybody that needs housing can have it.” Fees are minimal, anywhere from $30 to 75 a month, with the goal of teaching responsibility.
Access to Recovery and other organizations sponsor and often help individuals who cannot pay the small fee. UTH also works with Home Again to get individuals back on their feet.
Seeking employment is an important part of the process. “We try to get them plugged into employment because they have a lot of strikes against them and sometimes it gets discouraging,” Brown shared, “I always tell them ‘If you haven’t gotten your 100th no, then you haven’t gotten your yes yet.’”
Five individuals have successfully gone through the program this past year.
A Purposeful God
How God brought Starks and Brown together to form this ministry is a beautiful testimony in and of itself.
“God is a restorative God, and He restored my relationship with Minerva,” Starks said, “We knew each other in the world. We did some of the same things, went to some of the same places, went through some of the same things…and she found the Lord before I did.”
After Brown got saved, she ended up moving right across the street from Starks.
“Once God delivered her, He planted her right across from the place I was staying. So I would have to come out of the house and be on my worldly business everyday, and look across the street and see her doing things of the spirit,” Starks said.
God planted a seed during that time, though neither of them knew it.
Starks says “It was like God was saying, ‘There are people that come from where you come from and I’ve restored their lives’.”
Years later, when Starks was delivered from the bondage he was living in, he began attending the Harvest House Christian Center. “I look around and there she (Brown) was,” he laughed, “And she was already doing prison ministry. I was doing prison ministry on an individual basis so we began working together.”
Starks was running S.L.A.A.P (Start Living and Acting Positive).
“The two ministries [S.L.A.A.P. and Unshackled] helped uplift, sustain and compliment each other. Because of the awesomeness of our God, our collaboration was one that was divinely appointed so that we became blended in ministry, as far as our passion for being of assistance to those trying to break free from bondage,” Starks said.
Even more windows of opportunity opened from there.
Working with the Court System
“God started to open doors and the judges and court system started to take notice,” Starks shared.
Judge Unruh, Judge Stormer and Judge Cosgrove began referring clients to Starks and Brown.
“The relationship that God has allowed us to cultivate with the court system is really paramount,” Starks said.
The courts have not been hesitant to contact Starks and Brown, asking them to consider working with certain individuals they think would be a fit for the program.
“Judge Unruh was the door opener for us to take Unshackled into the court systems and before the judges. She had the confidence to give us our first person,” Brown shared.
The first five people in their homes came as a result of Judge Unruh.
“I want to give honor to her for trusting us enough being the new kids on the block, and having confidence in us that we could do it,” Brown said.