Salvation Army Corrections Services Connect Inmates to Hope & Healing
By Brooke Turbyfill, staff writer for The Salvation Army Southern Territory publication, The Southern Spirit. Learn more at http://www.southernspiritonline.org/.
One of Columbia Record’s best-selling songs ever was a Simon & Garfunkel tune penned in 1969 with these opening lyrics:
When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Paul Simon once said he felt the universality of the song was in its simplistic lyrics to which all human beings can relate. At its most fundamental purpose, The Salvation Army Correction and Institutional Services Department exists to help prisoners and their families know that there is no water too deep – no trouble too difficult – for the Lord to reach them with his love. When inmates are incarcerated, they and their families endure hardships of multiple kinds, and The Salvation Army Correction and Institutional Services Department seeks to be a sort of “bridge over troubled water” to help the inmates and their families find healing in Jesus Christ.
Rooted in The Salvation Army’s mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination, Correctional Services and its ministry is much more than how many inmates it serves, the number of prisons its correspondence materials reach or the amount of meetings provided to incarcerated groups. “Our correctional ministries must also include a spiritual dimension of healing and hope which speaks to the transformation of the many aspects of brokenness which come out of the judicial process,” said Chris Craig, correctional and institutional services director.
The department, which began Bible correspondence as a key ministry in the late 1960s, has shifted its emphasis to reflect a more holistic approach to reaching the inmates, their families and those who are re-entering society. Three primary means of reaching out to this population of people is preventative resources, incarcerated outreach and re-entry/re-unification services.
Working to act as a bridge between an inmate, prison chaplains and the local Salvation Army in a particular area, said Craig, equips The Salvation Army corps officers, social service centers, shelters and divisions to act as pastoral presence. For example, under the holistic umbrella of outreach to inmates, an inmate could send a letter to the territorial correctional office requesting help for his or her family with utilities or food assistance. Then, the territorial correctional office would send that letter onto the local Salvation Army, at which point this location could offer services and the local corps gets involved by inviting the family to attend a holiness meeting or corps program. The office would be “a bridge of communication between the prisoners, prison chaplains and local field commands,” said Craig.
Part of the new means of outreach is a change in Bible correspondence curriculum. In the past, the curriculum – which hasn’t been revised since 1992 – centered on Scripture memorization. The new curriculum, rolled out in early 2013, is based on Scripture that is memorized but also applied contextually. The curriculum is built around the Motivational Interviewing five-step recovery model. The five courses and a sixth trainer’s guide use reflective questioning to help an inmate not only learn Scripture, but also be able to relate to the memorized verses personally.
The courses are used for individual and group study in approximately 350 prisons throughout the USA South, and inmates regularly write to share how the Lord is using the question/answer format to speak to them. They also share sketches they have drawn, as directed by a particular course question, that reflect their relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Courses contain passages from the Old and New Testaments, such as stories in Genesis 35:1-7, so that course participants know it is O.K. for them to wrestle with life questions and with God. Each course is reviewed by two Bible Guides. Major Elizabeth Grider, a Bible Guide, said, “Completing the Bible Correspondence course gives the inmates an opportunity to make changes in their lives. Accepting Christ can bring peace, joy, freedom and hope when he rules in their hearts and lives.”
Reflective questions help the inmates see themselves in the context of Bible passages, considering how their own stories connect to the messages in Scripture.
“The courses are built around open-ended questions that give prisoners the opportunity to explore how the Bible could play a role in their lives. Essentially, the courses are a guide towards the cross,” said Craig.
A quarterly e-newsletter will soon be launched to help local Salvation Army units and chaplains work more closely together. Each newsletter will provide links for resources for not just currently incarcerated men and women, but also those who are re-entering society. The department also plans to expand the course curriculum, including adding Spanish translation.
To learn more about The Salvation Army’s prison ministries, please visit http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/prison-ministries.