Formally incarcerated individuals face many obstacles in life upon their release from prison. In the past, many of us have used terms or labels, that often foster a negative image of a person who may already have one step down upon returning to their home or establishing a new residence in our community. A returning citizen is far more enhancing than perhaps ex‑con, felon, fugitive, or on probation, etc.
Returning Citizens may struggle with obtaining employment, finding suitable housing, health issues, addictions, and mental health issues. On the flip side returning citizens are tax payers, employed and may be sitting beside you on a Sunday morning. They have a history as do all of us. We are all better people than actions or decisions we made on the worst day of our lives. The gospel message is of forgiveness. Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?(Matthew 18:21‑22) Of course Jesus tells him Seventy times seven. Although the disciples had been with Jesus for some time, they were still thinking in the limited terms of the law, rather than the unlimited terms of grace and love.
It is important to acknowledge employers, land lords and so many organizations, agencies and individuals who reach out and assist a Returning Citizen. Often it is you as a person who can do so much behind the scenes to assist and welcome a person who has had a difficult past. We recall the old adage but for the grace of God there go I.
This Thursday, March 9th from 7‑8:30pm, the Christian Social Concerns committee of United Churches will be hosting a Zoom discussion entitled Beyond the Bars. This online event will explore the realities of incarceration and ways to faithfully engage our Returning Citizens.
To register: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hebrews 13:1‑3 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers… continue to remember those in prison as it you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as it you yourself were suffering.@
-Mr. James Foran, Retired Director of Faith Formation, St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Yokefellow Prison Ministry Board Member, Member of the Pennsylvania Prison Society