By: Katie Sobiech
At the end of 2009 The Way Out Prison Ministry served in 3 jails, 6 halfway houses and 4 state prisons. In a typical month, over 900 individuals attended their Chapel services, 800 their Bible studies, and over 200 were in individual counseling sessions.
The Way Out (TWO) impacts people every single day with the help of 7 full and part time Chaplains, as well as volunteers, having access to nearly 2,000 inmates on a daily basis.
TWO’s mission is to bring forth transformation in the hearts of men and women while in jail or prison with hopes that their lives will change when released.
Freedom Behind Bars
Statistics show that seventy-five percent of released inmates will be re-arrested, but the rate of those active in Christian programming returning is much lower.
TWO brings the truth of Jesus Christ to inmates so that their lives can be restored and they can have hope for a better future.
“We teach them about the power of Christ to change their lives,” Bill Wilder, Executive Director, said, “The difficulty is that many of them have never seen that power. It’s one thing if you grew up in a nice home and it’s easy to do the right thing, but many of them grow up in areas where they have no modeling of that. All they’ve seen in life is drug, alcohol and addictions.”
The most difficult issues inmates struggle with are addictions to drugs, alcohol and various other things.
“We have a different approach than AA,” Wilder explained, “If any man is in Christ he is a new creation, the old is gone; the new has come. We think it’s important to teach that rather than ‘you’re always an addict’.”
“Many of the inmates are just sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he continued.
One mother shared in Inside the Way Out, TWO’s newsletter, “I cannot express how much jail and prison ministry has helped us. Prison ministry helped shape my son into a strong Christian. Seeing the faithfulness of God and his people has strengthened my faith as well.”
Life on the Inside
While inside of the prisons TWO provides a traditional church service, small group Bible studies and individual counseling.
“Bible study is the heart of the ministry because that’s where we can dialogue, meet specific needs and make sure they really understand,” Wilder said.
They also bring in special programs such as Operation Shoebox where they put together shoeboxes filled with items such as candy, cookies, socks, notepads and more.
“This is a gospel message that gets out to everyone rather than just those inside the Bible studies,” Wilder said.
After receiving a shoebox this past Christmas, one woman, Melina, wrote “I really enjoyed all of the contents in my shoebox gift…my 1st and only Christmas gift.”
They also have a special Easter service and work with other organizations to coordinate special events.
“We’re trying to create Psalm 66 Christians. If you read Psalm 66, verse 8 until the end, it really identifies our goal, and it isn’t just to go into the jail and get people saved. That’s very important but we really want to teach them what it means to live the Christian life,” Wilder said.
Wilder opened up his Bible, reading verses from Psalm 66, including “He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping… You tested us; refined us like silver”.
“And that’s the prison experience,” Wilder said, “And they say ‘Lord if you’ll just get me out of here I’ll come to church, I’ll be good’, but our goal is to see people a year after they are out of prison working and being a contributing member of their church, family and community.”
Life on the Outside
Getting out of jail is no walk in the park.
“There is tremendous temptation when they first get out because when they’re in the prison they have support and temptations are low. As soon as they get out the support goes down and temptation goes up…that’s when it’s difficult,” Wilder said.
TWO is there to help the men and women start new habits post-release.
“For many of them their families are broken up, morals are non-existent and living together is the norm,” Wilder said, “So it’s really about changing their life. Having a faith in Christ is absolutely essential to have the power, but then they need to turn their thinking and habits around.”
Fear of failure is a huge issue.
Chaplain Carol Wilder told of one man, David, who was soon to be paroled and scared to death, “He wonders if he is really ready to face life on the outside. David is afraid of failing,” she wrote in TWO’s newsletter.
David has no clue how to live life without drugs.
Wilder recalls one man who came to faith in the Summit County Jail, who he began working with in 1990. The man had been in prison for 17 years and came out and married his “sweetheart” from before he went to prison.
“She waited for him,” Wilder said, “It’s a great story.”
The man is now a pastor of a local church.
TWO also works with the Oriana House, supplying Chaplains to most of their facilities.
Two brothers recently stayed at the same halfway house, one with a serious alcohol problem. Their father was in another Oriana House on the same campus. Both brothers gave their lives to Christ, but the father wanted nothing to do with God.
“Now the brothers are out and doing really well. One is trying to set up a computer ministry and web developing, and he’s working with churches and helping people,” Wilder said, “He’s done well given his circumstances.”
Following the Call
Matthew 25:36 says “…I was in prison and you came to visit me” (NIV).
TWO encourages this call and offers opportunities to fulfill it for all believers. They are currently developing a mentoring program in which they work with churches, assigning members of the congregation to mentor someone in jail or a half-way house. Shepherd’s Pasture for all Nations in Tallmadge has already begun working with the pilot program.
“The goal is to get to know the person so that when they get out they can take them to church, meet with them during the week and guide them through life,” Wilder explained.
As for the future, TWO hopes not only to start establishing core groups in churches who support and welcome ex-inmates, but also to collaborate with other ministries more often.
They are currently working with several churches including the Chapel, Akron Bible Church and Middlebury Chapel. The goal is to minister together as a community to reach those in jails, prisons and halfway houses.
“Instead of trying to do everything ourselves, reinventing the wheel and developing discipleship houses for people to live in, we want to work with ministries who are already doing that. We want to come together as a coalition of ministries so that we can take people and say ‘Ok, I’ve got a guy coming out of jail, he needs this, this and this…
Can I send him to you?’”
They hope to work with Broken Chains, Haven of Rest, Rahab Ministries and many others.
If you would like to be a part of this ministry please call 330.848.0454. Also visit http://www.thewayoutministry.org for more information!