This restoration is the aim of the Multifaith Transition Aftercare Program, a chaplaincy-based re-entry program being piloted at NCCIW. Developing this program was my primary task during the summer. The Rev. Betty Brown D’96, statewide director of prison chaplaincy services, who commissioned the program, hopes it will become the exemplar for re-entry services throughout North Carolina.
Through pastoral counseling and mentoring, the program aims to help offenders understand their past, envision a better future, and attain the skills, beliefs, values and resources to become healthy and productive members of society.
For six weeks starting in June, I worked with a group of 11 inmates, ages 18 to 43, who had nine to 12 months remaining on their sentences. We began by reading and discussing biblical scholar Renita Weems’ Showing Mary: How Women Can Share Prayers, Wisdom, and the Blessings of God. The group has continued to meet weekly to pray together and to discuss their lives and their faith. In the fall, they began a study of womanist theology.
Most important, each participant is paired with a mentor from a local faith community who will help build a support network to provide encouragement, practical assistance and accountability. The mentors visit and write to the women, pray for them, coach them in life skills, and help them to plan for re-entry. The mentor relationship, which extends for three years post-release, is a crucial component of the program. Unfortunately, this is also the most difficult aspect of the program to maintain.
Although I had identified 13 potential mentors, only seven, from four different congregations, eventually attended the training session and were matched with inmates. Yet four months later, many mentors had not followed through.
During a recent visit to NCCIW, the women reported mentors who have never visited and who did not answer their letters. Although such attrition might be expected in a pilot program, it has potentially disastrous consequences. These women have changed from blue to green uniforms, the marker of a rapidly approaching release date. Without a mentor, crucial planning for transition is not getting done.