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Volunteers can help those in need see the light at the end of the tunnel

Through the efforts of “WeCan,” I have become involved in discussions about restoring former prisoners to community.

Following the “Summit of Hope” in February, when we interviewed more than 100 parolees, a movement has been started to develop a mentoring program for individuals and their families when they are released.

The goal is to be more than supportive in assisting them to become a part of the community.

According to experts in the field, “restorative justice is a term we seldom hear in America.”

Our country practices retributive justice, emphasizing the punishment a criminal deserves.

Restorative justice seeks to make right what has gone wrong, focusing on the needs and concerns of the victims, the community affected by crime, and even the offenders themselves.

Victims, offenders, and community members come together to devise a solution to the wrongdoing, repair a broken relationship, resolve property issues, make restitution when possible, provide opportunities for healing, and set up ways to prevent future problems.

Prison ministry in the U.S. has the challenge of working to restore humanity to offenders who are seen as less than human by our society. Inmates speak of feeling forgotten, thought of as “trash,” and no longer worth anything to anybody.

Fortunately, when volunteers and clergy feel led to those dark places called prison, a “still, small light” is seen at the end of the tunnel. We’re all challenged to widen the circle of compassion, break open the systems that oppress, and imagine a better world that we live in as people of faith.

Most people in prison are eventually released and will return to our communities. Extending the Christian hand of love and support to these individuals will help congregations and neighborhoods thrive.

Feeling the pain of others – the least, the last, the lost, will serve as a powerful motivation to work toward reconciliation and healing. Do we perceive our justice system as somebody else’s problem?

As Christians, we must open our hearts and minds to God’s plan for all humanity. It is God’s desire that none should perish, but have everlasting life ... no exceptions. When you believe this and put it into your daily conduct, your eyes will be opened and your heart strangely warmed in ways you cannot think or imagine. As one of our former Christian leaders has said, “If anyone is not welcome in the church, where are they welcome?” We need to have a vision of what true community can look like and then do the hard work of making it “on earth as in heaven.”

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