I didn’t know what to expect when I accepted an invitation to share a dinner meal at Liberty Ministries in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. My good friend, Ed Spencer, simply explained that it was an opportunity to meet some recently released inmates who were in a twelve month “reentry” program. We arrived early so that we could have a chance to get acquainted before dinner.
We met ten men, who ranged from 21 years old to about 60 years old. They were friendly, some a little shy, but each of them looked me straight in the eye when we shook hands. Then I heard one of them playing piano, beautifully, from memory. He was the youngest of the group, and he explained that he had taken lessons when he was “young”. One by one, I had a short conversation with most of them, each one very different. Most of them worked at one of the five thrift shops that provide the financial backing for Liberty Ministries (along with fund raisers and personal contributions). Each man was required to work and pay a monthly amount for his room and board; a good model for learning how to again become independent in society. They each had daily and weekly chores for the common good. I struggled to remember each name, hoping that they would recognize my effort.
When we sat down for dinner I witnessed one of their daily traditions and I was impressed; each man had chosen a verse or two from Scripture, and either repeated it from memory or read it from their Bibles as we went around the table. I quickly opened the Bible program on my IPhone, and went to 1st Corinthians v13:2, which talks about love, and I shared that with the group. No further explanation was offered or needed–each man’s verse spoke loudly on it’s own, each as different as the man that recited it. After the blessing was offered by one of the men, none would get up and get their food until Ed and I got up and made our plates. Willy stood proudly by the food he had prepared (roast pork, potatoes, and salad with goodies), and I noticed that he was the last to take for himself.
One of the older men got our attention when he announced a very serious prayer request of everyone; his best friend for over twenty years, Rafael, was shot and killed the previous evening in Philadelphia. Some of the other men also knew him, because he had also done the residency program at Liberty Ministries. We all wanted to know what happened to him, and it was explained that after a few months, he had fallen back to his addiction problem. Details were sketchy, but it had to do with drugs in some fashion. Prayers were requested for his family and friends who were hurting so much.
I wondered to myself if the outcome would have been different if he had a mentor’s caring and guidance after his “program” at Liberty House was over. On the way home that evening, I asked Ed if that man had a Christian mentor, or was he trying to make it on his own; I was shocked at Ed’s reply. He said, “Rick, none of the men in this program have a mentor. There are over 100 volunteers who do prison visitation, but none who volunteer to be mentors for these men” That was sobering for me, and it changed my approach to possibly volunteering at Liberty…I was going to volunteer to visit local prisons; but now I knew that the need was much greater, right here, with the men at Liberty House. These men have to first make the transition from incarceration to this reentry program, but then they have the biggest transition of all; to reenter society and become independent. This is where the need for a mentor or friend is so critical; it can truly make the difference between success and failure.
For more information on volunteering at Liberty Ministries, or to become a much needed mentor, contact Steve Poloway, Volunteer Director, Liberty Ministries & Liberty House, 565 Main Street. P.O. Box 87, Schwenksville, PA 19473, Office: 610-287-5481, Fax: 610-287-5286 Please tell Steve that Rick DiLaurenzo referred you to him…thanks!