The apartments that make up Trinity House are in various stages of assembly. In one sits a brand new washer and dryer. In another, new appliances. Beds and furniture -- wrapped neatly in plastic -- stand ready for unpacking.
All that’s missing? Tenants. But they’re coming. Friday evening was to mark the completion of the work in east Wynnton.
The connected dwellings, in a yellow cinderblock building, are the latest development in the two-year-old Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry Inc.
“In October 2009, this was all just wishful thinking,” full-time Muscogee County Jail Chaplain the Rev. Neil Richardson said as he stood outside the apartment building on a recent morning.
A group of churches came together to start the jail ministry, which has become so much more than the spiritual activities going on inside the downtown jail’s four walls. Richardson, a member of First Baptist, was ordained by that congregation specifically for this work.
With the support of Sheriff John Darr, who oversees the jail, staff and countless volunteers, the jail has started GED and literacy classes; and Richardson coordinates visitors who offer Bible lessons and other classes.
In 2010, the jail ministry moved some of its activities outside. It acquired a house a half a block away from the jail. Called the Safe House, it’s open seven days a week for ex-offenders who may be tempted, say, to use drugs and risk breaking the law and re-incarcertation. Next to a bonding company, the house, managed by Willie White and his wife, Shirley Gates-White, offers people free use of computers, support group meetings and a daily meal.
“The only thing we could not find was a bed for a woman,” Richardson said, meaning there aren’t any places in Columbus for a single, newly released inmate to acquire shelter.
In recent months, Richardson happened to be giving a speech about the jail ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church. In his talk, he mentioned the fact that otherwise homeless women aren’t able to find safe shelter once they’re let out of local jails and prisons.
Church leaders seized on that and Trinity paid for total upgrades to the apartments as well as sixth months’ operating expenses.
Each unit has its own HVAC system; all have been rewired and as many as 20 people at one time can stay in the building, free of charge.
A bonding company was the former owner of the building, but it went under and the Sheriff’s Department took it over. The department donated it to the city. At the Columbus Council meeting on Oct. 11, the Jail Ministry was approved to rent the facility for $1 a year for five years.
Statistics show inmates have the odds stacked against them upon release.
Many inmates come from poor inner-city neighborhoods. Without adequate preparation and support for life after prison or jail, the chances are great that inmates with drug use problems will return to their former situations and lifestyles, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This may lead to drug use, possible infection with HIV, re-arrest and return to prison:
Transition services, such as the Trinity House, provide a crucial link to immediate sources of help to address these issues, according to HHS.
Developing this kind of support network is what Richardson has in mind. If we offer this kind of after-care, odds are improved that an inmate won’t return behind bars, he said.
Like at the Safe House, Richardson has someone to manage Trinity House.
As it turned out, Althea Kimbrough lived in one of the apartments already. After they met Kimbrough, he and Gates-White thought the same thing: Why don’t we just hire her?
“Now we have formed a family,” Kimbrough said on a recent tour of the buildings. She’s looking forward to Thanksgiving with the new tenants. Kimbrough lives in the first apartment with her dog, Zeus.
Trinity House will take interested residents only after they’re cleared through the Safe House downtown. Trinity House also can accept referrals from Hope Harbour, the battered women’s shelter in Columbus, as well as the shelter in Russell County, if they run out of room.
Largely because of those connections, the location of Trinity House isn’t advertised.
“A year ago, there were no beds and then Trinity came along and now we have furniture and a manager,” Richardson said. “God’s a pretty cool God.”
The number to the Safe House is 706-322-3773.