PRISON MINISTRY NEWS
Hollywood Lutheran Launches SMART Continuum for Ex-Offenders
At the urging of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and after four months of planning, Hollywood Lutheran and its Mariposa Prison & Parole Ministry has launched a S.M.A.R.T. Continuum for ex-offenders in the Hollywood area.
S.M.A.R.T. is the Sheriff’s Department’s acronym for Social Mentoring Academic and Rehabilitative Training, which is one of the educational programs inside the County Jail. The “Continuum” is a support group for ex-offenders—primarily LGBTQ—who are on parole or probation in the community.
The S.M.A.R.T. Continuum started August 22 with the endorsement of the Sheriff’s Department, and after several visits of Mariposa Team members to Men’s Central Jail to explain the Continuum program to inmates. As these inmates are released, they are reminded and invited to attend the Continuum to find help in re-integrating their lives into the community. Ex-offenders are not required, by encouraged to come to the Continuum.
Staff members from LASD and community organizations and agencies also attend to offer support and answer questions. The Continuum sessions are presently held each Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Durkee Community Hall.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Adopts Social Statement on Criminal Justice
We add our voices of thanksgiving for the adoption of the ELCA’s new Social Statement, “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries.” The Statement was approved August 16, 2013 at the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly gathered in Pittsburgh, by a vote of 882 to 25. To become the guiding policy of the church, Social Statements require a 2/3 majority vote, which this new document easily received.
What is in the new Criminal Justice Statement?
In the Statement, the church acknowledges that human justice pales against the measure of God’s justice. Holy Scripture has much to teach about divine justice. We see that religious faith cannot be separated from God’s demand for justice. In the words of the prophet Amos, “let justice roll won like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” And in the words of the prophet Micah: “Hear what the Lord says... He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
Because Christian acknowledge that we and all people are sinners, we do not sit in judgment of others who have fallen short of God’s standards of justice. Along with those enforce the civil laws, and those who have been convicted of breaking those laws, we too admit that we have offended against God Almighty. But as disciples of Christ we understand that we are to be reconcilers in the world where breaches of justice have torn people’s lives apart. Our role is not to be judges but advocates and friends to other offenders.
The church acknowledges that we care called to respond to injustice in our community and society, and to hear the cries of those who are harmed by injustice, including crime victims and those who may be incarcerated unjustly.
The church must add its voice of conscience to the public policy debate about how to correct the abuses and reform the injustices of the criminal justice system, specifically in matters of criminal law, law enforcement, the court system, incarceration and rehabilitation.
Although it is not the first article of faith for the Church in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, our response to Christ impels Christians to follow his lead in the world today. As we minister in his name, we cannot ignore those who are oppressed by the criminal justice system, for Jesus says to us in the Gospel of Matthew, “I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, . . . I was in prison and you visited me.”
The social statement on criminal justice is available at www.ELCA.org/criminaljustice.
Why is this Social Statement important now?
Many voices in our society have exposed the terrible injustices in contemporary America where crime victims, convicted offenders, law enforcement personnel and families are all harmed by the inequalities and disparities of the system. Everyone from bar associations, law enforcement officials, and legislators to family members, non-profit organizations such as Friends Outside, Amnesty International and the ACLU have called for major reform of criminal justice.
Most serious are two issues which cannot be ignored: One, the mass incarceration of tens of thousands of people such that America locks up a greater percentage of its own people than any other developed nation in the world. This mass incarceration falls disproportionately upon persons of color. There are more African-American men under the control of the criminal justice system today than were enslaved in 1850 before the Civil War. Two, the atrocious overcrowding and terrible conditions inside our jails and prison, which adds to a mood of violence, brutality, and hopelessness and has significantly reduced human treatment, health care, education and rehabilitation.
In recent decades, the severe enforcement laws against offenders, primarily imprisoned for minor drug offenses, have led to the unintended consequences of dissolving families and disintegrating communities, and the bankrupting of local and state law enforcement to cover the cost of incarcerating more people for much longer sentences. Families have been further harmed when family members serving time are sent to out-of-state prison facilities.
Another difficult issue is that draconian laws have made it nearly impossible for ex-offenders to reintegrate back into their communities after serving their sentences. Convicted sex offenders are forced into a life-time of near homelessness when released from prison. Drug offenders may be permanently barred from the lawful economy because of their conviction record, and are forced back into the illegal economy and re-offending.
Why is the Social Statement important to the church?
Part of our mandate in following Christ faithfully is to minister those who are on the margins of society as if we are ministering to Christ himself. Jesus personally identifies himself with the poor and hungry, the homeless, the sick and imprisoned, the outcast and the foreigner.
When the Church looks at all the people affected by the criminal justice system, above all else it sees people for whom Christ bled and died.
In our times, ministry takes many forms, including education, compassionate assistance, advocacy.
Because we are 4.5 million believers in the United States, we have reason to speak faithfully and forcefully to our society about justice, and to bring injustice to public attention. Where it comes to advocacy about public policy specifics, this new Criminal Justice Statement supports our qualified spokespersons in addressing legislators and policy makers authoritatively about what Lutherans believe and teach, and about the underlying values we believe should shape our society.
Lutherans in California are represented in Sacramento by the Lutheran Office of Public Policy. Its policy council meets throughout the year to study and advise congregations and lawmakers about the effects of pending legislation on matters of hunger, poverty, health, education, public spending, and criminal justice. (It never takes a position about partisan candidates for elective office.)
In recent years, this congregation has accepted a larger role in criminal justice matters than most ELCA congregations. In 2008, we began responding to a member of our own community who was on parole. The following year we began to address the needs of inmates who were referred to us who asked for understanding, compassion and help. And this congregation came to discover that a significant number of people who identify or worship with us have some criminal record, from misdemeanor convictions to time served in prison.
The Criminal Justice Social Statement will help us educate our own members about complex current issues, and guide our response in Jesus’ name and at his command to reach out to inmates, parolees, victims, and family members with compassion.
— Pastor Dan Hooper
Pastor Dan Joins New Advocacy Work
More than 600 people from faith communities turned out May 10 in Compton, California to hear civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
Among them were three people from our Mariposa Prison & Parole Ministry team.
Springing directly from the empowering event, in mid-May Progressive Christians Uniting director Peter Laarman sent out invitations to clergy to discuss what Christian advocates can contribute to criminal justice reform. Pastor Dan Hooper attended the first meeting, and has joined in new advocacy effort to build a statewide network concerned about the mass incarceration in our society, The California Conscience Network, guided by the very articulate and able Rev. Romal Tune (CEO of Clergy Strategic Alliances in Washington, DC), has now put together a statement of objectives and issues.
The thrust of Ms. Alexander's findings is deeply unsettling for those in progressive faith communities who are concerned about the chaos and dysfunctionality in the nation's criminal justice system. America in the 21st century has the highest percentage of its citizenry locked behind bars than any other civilized nation in the world.
California's own systems are Exhibit No. 1. The "lock-em-up and throw the key away" mentality of the last several decades has produced horrible results for both individuals and society.
- Fed by deeply polarized politics, voters have approved a slew of draconian laws that led to shocking overcrowding in prisons—now under orders from the U.S. Supreme Court to release 33,000 inmates—and made the reintegration of parolees back into honest society much more difficult. The "realignment" begun in 2011 which is sending thousands of low-level offenders from state prisons back to county jails has not led to any genuine improvement in the system.
- Juveniles—children—have been sentenced to die in prison, and legislators resist reforming juvenile sentencing laws for fear of political backlash.
- The Death Penalty has not resulted in better deterrence against violent crime, and in fact is contributing to California's imminent bankruptcy. In the meantime, tens of thousands of homicides and rapes go unsolved for lack of adequate law enforcement.
- California has the highest recidivism rate in the nation (about 75%!), largely because of a system of punitive parole regulations, not new criminal offenses.
- Chelsea's Law, Jessica's Law and Marsy's Law have contributed to a 100-fold increase in the homelessness of ex-felons.
- The Three Strikes Law continues to lock up thousands of people for petty offenses for life terms.
- The CDCR lacks all transparency, and abuses solitary confinement, limited medical care and educational resources in what amounts to cruel and unusual punishment of the inmates they are supposed to be rehabilitating.
- Worse, the prison system places unnecessary obstacles and burdens on outside charitable organizations who are trying to pick up the work of rehabilitation, while it grossly neglects its rehabilitation mandate inside prison walls. Over 95% of its huge budget is spent simply on keeping people locked up, and very little is left over for education, job training, and addiction treatment.
- Even less visible to the public are the countless California convicts who are sent thousands of miles away to out-of-state prison facilities, where it is impossible for families, friends or supportive church ministries to visit them.
Michelle Alexander's research reveals that mass incarceration is highly racialized, and consigns thousands of African-American and Latino ex-offenders to a permanent sub-caste in which they are forever unable to find housing, food and jobs in the legal economy, thus driving most of them into the underground world of drug trafficking and petty crimes just to survive. She reports that there are more African-Americans under the control of the prison-industrial complex today than the were slaves in 19th century America.
Although the Mariposa Ministry of Hollywood Lutheran Church is primarily a hands-on, one-to-one ministry with inmates and case management model with parolees, we are also concerned to participate in the larger work of advocacy and reform, along with the regional expressions of the ELCA and the Lutheran Office of Public Policy in Sacramento. The CDCR budget, which has grown from $3.5 billion to more than $10 billion in about 20 years, is not a cost-effective partner in public safety for our state, but continues to bloat as the result of the politics of privilege and fear. As a society we are desperately in need of reforms in how our laws, courts, law enforcement, prisons and rehabilitation systems operate.
Hollywood recruits partners and donors for prison work
At a gathering of church representatives in the Southwest California Synod October 29, Hollywood Lutheran made its first public presentation of the Mariposa Ministry model, and provided resources to other churches which might be interesting in partnering with us. Pastor Dan, our Mariposa case coordinator Carl Hunter, David Conrad and Phyllis Lundine took part in the workshop, and an entire Resource Kit was given to all others with an interest in prison work. Resources from the workshop are available on this web site also, on the "Prison Ministry" page (see menu at left).
Kenny Callaghan from St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in North Hollywood also described key featurees of their Koinonia Ministry to inmates. At present, the two churches combined are working with about 120 inmates in 13 different penal institutions throughout the state.
In addition, Marl Carlson from the Lutheran Office of Public Policy in Sacramento was able to provide petitions to replace the death penalty in California with the SAFE Act, which would saving hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars but leave violent offenders presently on death row in prison for life without parole.
Recent studies and polls have shown that California voters no longer favor the death penalty, and may be ready to repeal it if enough safeguards to public safety are in place.
Petitions will be available at Hollywood Lutheran Church. If you would like to circulate a petition in your neighborhood, at work or school, please ask for a petition from Pastor Dan.
Newsletter Reaches Donors, Inmates and People on Parole
As Hollywood Lutheran's outreach to the incarcerated continues to move forward, Pastor Dan has begun publishing a quarterly newsletter, the Mariposa Prison & Parole News ewrwer. The inaugural issue for June 2011 is a double 8-page newsletter, with inspirational columns, a quick Bible study, legislative and court news, and features on praying in prison, and HIV/AIDS at 30. Each issue will also have a short list of resources for further information.
Check this page frequently and read the latest issue (Adobe PDF file) here.
Prison Outreach is Growing Rapidly
A simple effort to show kindness and compassion to one individual is quickly mushrooming to be a serious outreach program of Hollywood Lutheran Church.
As a result of one of our own young men, who was on parole, being sent back to state prison three years ago for a minor parole violation, the Prison & Parolee Committee is now working with 17 inmates and parolees to help sustain them emotionally and spiritually during difficult periods in their lives.
Our greatest thanks go to two men in our worshiping community: Jeffrey Talbutt, who is on the final days of his term in Chuckawalla Valley State Prison and hopes to return to Los Angeles to help in this outreach ministry; and former Council member Joe McDermott,who for many months "beat the drum" that Jeffrey, and other inmates he has befriended, should not be forgotten.
In the last ten year the drum beat has been heard loud and clear by other members of the congregation. The Mariposa Prison & Parole Ministry committee now numbers 8 people who are planning and doing genuine ministry through letter-writing, advocacy and teaching, resource gathering and visitation to provide direct assistance to ex-offenders making their en-entry into the community. Paulette Hunnewell and David Conrad, especially, have written to every inmate we know, and continue to send newsletters and bulletins to each one. Carl Hunter is actively working on the difficult job of finding low-income housing for parolees. But in the last year, he was effective in finding housing for five people in our worshiping community, and he intends to succeed again.
By June 2010, Hollywood Lutheran Church was offering guidance and tangible assistance to several people on parole. Even more significant are the arrangements we are making to visit several inmates this summer, beginning with facilities in Blythe and Coalinga, California. Helping to find successful placements on parole --especially for housing and employment -- is critical if former inmates really do have a chance to start their lives over again in a positive manner.
It is estimated that 80% of prison inmates are rejected or "written-off" by their family members. When we hear the words of Jesus (Matthew 25:36), "I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me," our Christian duty and opportunity are unmistakable.
"Mark" (not his real name) was sent to prison at age 16, and has been locked up for 22 years. Mark is a changed man from the gang, drug and violence circles in which he was caught up as an adolescent.
His mother called us because she saw something on this web site that said, "God does not hate!" She explained, "That's the kind of church I need!" Other inmates describe her son as kind and sensitive, and always watching out for others. Mark and his mother— who lives in the Los Angeles area—had helped several other inmates readjust to life outside the prison walls when they contacted us by phone and letter to ask for help in particular for a young transgender woman who was about to be released and returned to Los Angeles County.
Above right, "Mark's" mom and aunt fix a fantastic meal for the Mariposa Ministry team.
"The world can a frightening place for transgender people," said Pastor Dan, "and it is a nightmare for many who are serving time." Too many episodes of sexually-charged violence, manipulation and territoriality make the inmates who cannot defend themselves well subject to the mistreatment of both inmates and guards. Our Prison & Parolee Committee is constantly trying to educate itself about the prison environment, which most of us have little knowledge or experience with. Yet alarming evidence backs up the stories of inmates about the difficult and abusive conditions. Several years ago the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General issued a substantial report entitled "Deterring Staff Sexual Abuse of Federal Inmates."
Education and training are still badly needed for state prison staff. Many inmates report derogatory or inflammatory speech if not brutal force from prison guards. In some state facilities, inmates with special conditions are now being segregated from the general prison population, but not necessarily in a beneficial way. Gay and transgender inmates, for example, may be lumped together with child molesters and other sex offenders!
Because of a mother’s love and persistence, Pastor Dan Hooper has written to, and personally talked to Mark in prison. Now he is trying to get the papers approved by the prison authorities to visit him in central California. As a result of our committee’s work, the Congregation Council voted in April 2010 to support California State Assembly Bill 633, which will amend the state Penal Code to provide greater protection for sexual minorities in the consideration of risk factors affecting inmates.
The committee continues to monitor other legislative efforts to reform the over-crowded and difficult conditions in state prisons. "Worst of all," said Pastor Dan," is that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spends 95 percent of its budget on locking up prisoners, and less than five percent on rehabilitation." At any annual cost of over $42,000 per inmate—a figure which is going up constantly—most authorities admit that reform is long overdue. In some state facilities, for example, job training and even basic pre-release preparations for parole are minimal. Prison chaplains and worship services can be scarce, or denied to some inmates as a form of punishment, even though our laws guarantee the right to practice one’s religion.
Mark is a straight man who has a solid record of compliance with prison rules and regulations. What is perhaps more surprising is that Mark also knows his Bible better than many people who sit in church pews every week. Although with limited success, he has gathered other inmates in the prison yard for prayer and study together. He lives by the scriptures, and quotes them in his letters as a sign of those spiritual anchors which give him strength from day to day.
Is Mark eligible for parole? Yes, but every several years, his mother tells us, when he comes up for review before the parole board, he is told he’s doing a good job and to wait several more years. "If only he can find other people," says his mother, "who will stand up for him and tell the parole board how he has turned his life around."
Certainly our Prison & Parolee Committee is taking this seriously, because we are seeing other people’s lives being turned around who face other challenges: HIV and AIDS, drug and alcohol addiction, and even physical disabilities. "We try to be in ministry with anyone who walks through our doors," said Pastor Dan, "and we realize that God is bringing these people here because this church is not judgmental. If there is any church in Hollywood where you can feel safe, welcome and respected no matter what your past, this is that church."
You can help our Prison & Parolee Ministry in whatever ways work for your schedule, means and comfort level:
- offer to write letters to one inmate; send stationery, stamps, etc. they can use to write back
- collect and bring hygiene and personal items for parolees, including soaps, shampoos and other unused items provided by hotels for their guests
- become a peer counselor and sponsor for a parolee
- donate to the Prison & Parolee outreach efforts to help defray ministry expenses, especially for the purchase of Bibles
- borrow and watch the video "Prison Ministry: A Call to Servanthood" produced by the ELCA’s Division for Church in Society.
- pray for greater understanding and compassion for both inmates and society outside prison walls
|Especially helpful so far has been the work of Pastor Steve Fiechter, who with his graduate degree in social work, has been instrumental in researching and tracking down the resources we need to be effective in helping parolees through the re-entry process. We now realize that a significant new ministry could be launched from our congregation to fill a void in Los Angeles. At present, no other Lutheran church is proactively engaged in prison work. Pastor Steve believes that the model for ministry we are developing is "exportable" to other Lutheran congregations, either to work in collaboration with us or to take on a specific form of ministry on their own.|
In July, four members of the team made their first visit to Chuckawalla Valley State Prison. From left: Pastor Steve, Pastor Dan, Jeff, Carl and David.
Hollywood Lutheran Church
Mariposa Prison & Parole Ministries
Read the first issue of Mariposa Prison & Parole News June 2011 edition