Merlene Davis: Conference aims to help those who help ex-offenders

Herald-Leader columnistNovember 13, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Jail-Prison Ministry Conference sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington.

    When: 9 a.m. Nov. 16.

    Where: Episcopal Mission House, 203 East Fourth St.

    Cost: $10. Lunch provided.

    Information and registration: Call (859) 583-3530.

  • If you go

    Jail-Prison Ministry Conference sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington.

    When: 9 a.m. Nov. 16.

    Where: Episcopal Mission House, 203 East Fourth St.

    Information and registration: Call (859) 583-3530

    Cost: $10. Lunch provided.

Slowly but surely, the difficulties faced by ex-offenders are becoming the latest local, state and national cause célèbre.

Grass-roots activists who struggled behind the scenes to shine a brighter light on those roadblocks are now being joined by national political figures, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who have TV cameras at the ready.

Change seems to be in the air as some states consider banning job applications that ask for criminal convictions, and others mull automatic restoration of voting rights. Paul wants the federal government to do away with mandatory minimum sentences.

While all that gets worked out, however, men and women are being released from jails and prisons every day, and they face emotionally deflating obstacles that keep them from putting the past behind them.

And the volunteers who work with those men and women, before and after their release, sometimes need to be refocused, informed and refreshed.

Billie Stockton, head of the Prison Ministry Commission at the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, said she hopes the Jail-Prison Ministry Conference on Saturday will do just that.

The diocese hosts the conference every two years, with speakers this year focusing on "Re-entry of Ex-offenders," including success stories and pitfalls, and on the need for affordable housing in Lexington.

"Homelessness is a big issue with people getting out of prisons," Stockton said. Because of their criminal records, ex-offenders can't always find public housing, and halfway houses and homeless shelters are only temporary solutions. Many ex-offenders end up on the streets.

"We have to be concerned about changing some of the laws and rules that keep people from being housed," she said. "We need to inform the public more about these people who are trying to re-integrate into society and the barriers they face.

"Just because they committed a crime doesn't mean they will always be criminals," Stockton said. "Some of them are more reliable than other tenants."

Panelists discussing affordable housing and homelessness will include Ginny Ramsey of the Catholic Action Center and at-large Urban County Council member Steve Kay.

Housing and employment are physical needs. Ex-offenders and those incarcerated also need to have their spiritual needs addressed.

Two ex-offenders will discuss what helped them get through imprisonment and redirect their lives upon release. The key is a lot of support.

Without supporters, it is too easy to fall back into old habits and go back to jail.

"If there is no hope for change, where are you going to go?" asked Tayna Fogle, an ex-offender who volunteers with the Catholic Action Center and with Total Grace Church to find jobs and housing for ex-felons. She will address the conference as a re-entry specialist.

Stockton, who formerly was a psychological practitioner at the Northpoint Training Center, said that's where a prison ministry can fill the gap.

Many prisoners needed a lot of help in their Christian walk, she said. They required an "attitude of complete acceptance, not judgment and not condemnation," she said. "They are children of God and loved by God."

Ministry volunteers could take that foundation and build on it. Stockton said those efforts carry over into improved self-esteem, stronger faith and more productive lives. Volunteers visit the inmates and write letters when they are released to keep in touch and offer continued encouragement.

The diocese also offers a free weeklong summer camp for children whose parents are incarcerated.

Armed with information and bolstered by success stories, attendees, some coming from Cincinnati, Louisville and Middlesboro, might find renewed strength to continue their work.

"This is for those in prison ministry and for those who vaguely think they might want to do something in ministry," Stockton said. "We have people coming from different denominations."

If you plan to attend the conference, give Stockton a call so she will have enough lunches on hand. The cost is $10.


IF YOU GO

What: Jail-Prison Ministry Conference sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington.

When: 9 a.m. Nov. 16.

Where: Episcopal Mission House, 203 East Fourth St.

Cost: $10. Lunch provided.

Information and registration: Call (859) 583-3530.


If you go

Jail-Prison Ministry Conference sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington.

When: 9 a.m. Nov. 16.

Where: Episcopal Mission House, 203 East Fourth St.

Information and registration: Call (859) 583-3530

Cost: $10. Lunch provided.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: Merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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