By: Katie Sobiech
The lyrics of Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”, echo throughout the halls of the Summit County jail these days, literally.
Broken Chains Ministry (BCM) has opened the doors of opportunity wide to minister to offenders by creating an eyeglass ministry. Through this, they open people’s eyes physically and spiritually.
This started in 2004 when BCM first formed, after much prayer and realizing how poor the eyesight of many inmates was. “We saw that we were missing a lot of opportunities to minister to people. People wouldn’t come to chapel or bible study, even though those doors were wide open for them. We were missing a multitude of people who we could get the gospel message to,” Reverend Dennis Shawhan, Executive Director of BCM , said.
A Free Gift
“There is poor lighting in the jail and drug and alcohol addiction attacks your eyes, lessening your eyesight,” Shawhan explained.
“This gives us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to each person where maybe no one else is doing anything for them,” Shawhan explained.
Along with the glasses, each inmate receives a Gospel tract with a complete illustration on how they can have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
As a result of this free gift, more people attend their Chapel services and Bible Study.
“Now they are in Bible study and have a mentor to personally meet with them,” Shawhan said of the positive outcomes.
Thousands of people have come to faith through this ministry.
“We get thank you notes saying ‘Thank you, no one else would do this. Now I can read my Bible, books and legal information’,” Shawhan shared.
“The purpose and intent was to find any way we could get an open door,” he continued.
They average giving away 100 pairs of glasses each month. That is 100 souls being reached every month that might have never heard the Gospel. And those who couldn’t ever read a Bible before, now can.
A Gift that Keeps On Giving
Not only do they help men and women while they are on the inside, but they follow through with them when they get out.
Currently the ministry is looking to create jobs for the men and women getting released. They’ve begun working with the Summit County Reentry Network, a group of about 90 different organizations in Summit County, headed up by the Department of Public Safety under County Executive Russ Pry.
“All of the organizations, whether secular, faith-based, social service or government agencies, are part of Summit County’s people that have formed this coalition to help ex-offenders reenter society. It’s really a neat thing that all of us have the ability to refer back to other agencies,” Shawhan said of the Summit County Reentry Network.
Creating employment opportunities for ex-offenders is huge. This is what keeps the recidivism rates down, meaning they don’t end up doing something to land them back in prison.
“When they come out you’ve got this new, baby Christian who is unemployable, doesn’t have a GED, no job skills, they may have mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and they are homeless… there’s all of these issues,” Shawhan explained.
“And there are so many collateral sanctions against offenders. Most of them for good reasons if they’ve stolen and done damage to people. But there are sanctions that you can’t get jobs in a certain field, ” Shawhan shared.
He has joined a committee for advocacy, pioneering for jobs and a second chance for these people.
“We’re advocating for jobs and to help the homeless situation. We’re taking on little bits and pieces at a time. There are about 6 ad hoc committees that meet to discuss all of the things that are faced by ex- offenders. So there’s a lot of help out there, more now than ever in Summit County,” Shawhan said.
Shawhan explained that people don’t have as much compassion for adult offenders as they do juveniles.
Taking a look at some statistics on the BCM website, http://www.brokenchains.org, might cause a little more compassion.
Inmate statistics show that:
- 95% of men had no father figure
- 80% of female inmates have been abused in some way, either physically, mentally, sexually or emotionally • 67% of the men and women come from a broken or dysfunctional home
There is Hope
One encouraging story Shawhan shares is of a wedding coming this June, which blossomed due to two ex-offenders relationship with BCM.
“They had 3 children together and one of them went to jail. Their lives were a total wreck, they got reconciled and decided they wanted to do this thing right,” Shawhan said.
For the past year they have been ministered to by BCM and are currently in premarital counseling and being discipled by people of the church.
“This is a model to all of the other ex-offenders that are coming in that ‘I can really do this. This really works’,” Shawhan said of the couple whose lives have been completely transformed.
The Future’s Looking Brighter
The future wouldn’t look so bright without BCM. They offer ex-offenders opportunities they never had before.
This June they will have their 5th Annual Picnic in Portage Lakes. The day will be filled with pontoon rides, games and lots of food.
Women from the Oriana House, Legacy 3, Rahab Ministry and other female programs in the area will be in attendance.
Many other plans are in the works for this ministry, providing opportunities and hope both inside and out of the Summit County Jail.
“We’re excited about the future and what’s going on with jail and prison work,” Shawhan said.
For more information on Broken Chains and how you can help please visit http://www.brokenchainsministry.org