‘Love in Action’ ministry strives to help freed prisoners transition to new life, avoid return to jail
By ALLISON KENNEDY
If you’ve just been released onto Columbus’ streets from prison, and given the requisite $25, where would you turn?
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Maybe back to friends? Maybe back to the old neighborhood, where temptations might get the best of you and you’ll be the one of the six in 10 who return?
For the past 2 1/2 years, a group of Columbus clergy and lay people have worked on reversing this trend. “Love in Action” a 501(c)(3) nonprofit ministry, will help inmates and prisoners readjust to the community once they’re released. For now, in this area, the 31901 ZIP code is the only one available with direct assistance for ex-offenders. That aid includes housing and transportation.
Pieces of the puzzle are coming together — a safe house near the Muscogee County Jail is nearing completion — and 32 mentors for ex-offenders have been trained and certified.
One of Columbus’ longtime spiritual leaders believes it’s a mandate to care for those on the margins of society.
“It’s a commandment of the Lord,” said the Rev. J.H. Flakes, pastor of Fourth Street Baptist Church. “We have to be concerned about those who have been incarcerated. It’s a call for Christians to take care of the less fortunate.”
Flakes led a meeting Tuesday at his church of about 10 people working on the local effort.
Temporary housing will be provided by Fourth Street, near its property. Law enforcement, mental health counselors, business owners and state groups are volunteering to help with this program, the third of its kind in Georgia after Augusta and Savannah.
A safe house will be open 24/7, for ex-offenders who may be tempted to go back to old friends and commit crime, and seeking a place to escape those temptations temporarily.
A breakfast in November 2007 was the official launch of this effort locally. That’s when then Department of Corrections chief James Donald urged local civic, religious and business leaders to back the effort. Aside from religious implications that Flakes described, there’s a practical matter: Six in 10 current inmates will return to incarceration after release. The hope is the recidivism can be reduced through support systems for people leaving jail and prison.
“We need to get the word out to the state about what we’re doing here,” said the Rev. Morris Lewark, chaplain at Rutledge State Prison on Schatulga Road.
Instead of mere release, there’s concern about what happens after men and women are set free.
“We have to go find these individuals and ask them what they need,” said Cpl. L. Daniel of the Columbus Police Department. “We on the law enforcement side don’t want to rouse them, but we do want to monitor them to do what’s right — so they won’t go back to their old ways. We don’t want to send them back (to prison).”
Most ex-offenders are monitored by parole officers. Sometimes ex-offenders are assigned to transition housing — a bridge between prison and complete freedom.
“Love in Action” will also connect them with local counselors as well as potential employers through the Department of Labor.
At the 2007 breakfast, inmate Reuel Deadwyler (also known as Revel Deadwyler) spoke of his dream to become a brake technician in the Atlanta area. He talked about the importance of his congregation back home.
“The churches are a positive step toward being successful,” Deadwyler said then. He’s affiliated with Divine Deliverance Christian Ministries in Atlanta and is serving his time at Macon State Prison.
He could be released as soon as 2012, according to the Department of Corrections Web site. Deadwyler has been in the Georgia prison system since 1989 for various offenses, records show.
The Rev. Johnny Flakes III, the assistant pastor at Fourth Street Baptist, said more volunteers are needed for “Love in Action.” And, the ministry also needs $25,000 to kick-start it to an official launch. Much of that will go toward refurbishing the apartments.
Meetings are held the second Thursday of the month at Fourth Street: A board meeting begins at 3 p.m. and a general meeting is at 4 p.m.
Nearly a year in his job as full-time chaplain at Muscogee County Jail, the Rev. Neil Richardson sees the need from the inside.
“Some of them have the deck stacked against them,” he said. “This changes the deck.”
Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at 706-576-6237