Who are the “Boys Behind Bars”, and can a mentor truly make a difference?
These boys come from many different cultures and backgrounds; and they commit violent crimes for many different reasons. For instance, some come from inner-city gangs or drug dealing families. This may be the only life they have ever known, and they have learned to survive in those cultures.
Others come from middle class neighborhoods, but with a combination of teenage hormones and some deep-seated anger or resentment they manage to run themselves right off the rails. A Supreme Court ruling holds that below the age of 25, their brain’s frontal lobes have not fully developed, which hinders their decision making skills and often masks their understanding of the consequences of their actions. This is not an excuse for the major crimes that these guys have committed. But, suppose such a young man had a mentor who was involved in his life earlier, before his anger had escalated to the point of committing a major crime and causing terrible losses for multiple families? How many tragedies could have been avoided? I have actually heard young guys tell us that they wish they had known someone like us to talk to before their thoughts and actions escalated to violence. Hearing this a number of times has been very sobering.
How many young men have we walked past, desperate for help and guidance. How do we seek them out? Where do we find them? Sometimes they are the boy next door or the teenage loner at the high school or at Church. They may be a nephew or the son of a good friend. When you think about it, you can probably think of someone you know, a young man having some issues, that you could step in and befriend.
But, you can also find them in prison, and they, too, need mentoring! Their journey back to a normal and meaningful life needs to begin while still in prison. A mentor provides a path of rehabilitation through friendship and through spiritual encouragement.
Regardless of where you find these boys to help, their needs are rather universal. As mentors, our task is to show them that they have significance and value; that they are a creation of God. For each boy it means that God wanted him and loves him, and that he matters to God. When you tell a young man that God wanted him and loves him–he pays attention. Now you have to prove it.
They are often surprised to learn that they can still make a positive difference in their own lives and in the lives of the people around them, including their family and friends! The task is to help them to see themselves as you see them, and even more, as God sees them.
Words are powerful, but they are not enough…a mentor will have to prove it to him through actions of love. For example, having regular and dependable communications with him, and making yourself available for a call or chat when he is in need of a friend. Remembering his birthday and other holidays and events in his life is evidence that someone cares. That begins to mean that God cares. Just listening to him, he will be encouraged by your interest in his stories. When you see him smile, you will know that your encouragement has really made a difference–you made him feel good about himself.
Whether you are helping a neighbor boy or an inmate, you will see them grow in the right direction when they realize that someone really cares about them…they begin to understand and believe that they have value and significance. And, you will quickly see the best ways to encourage them as you see them truly engage with you.
It is a tragedy that teens are entering the “system” having to do sentences of 20, 30 , 50, or more years of incarceration, or even “Life Without Parole”. God can use you to make a difference in their lives. But the truth is, they will make a positive difference in your life!
Read their stories and listen to their hearts by visiting www.PrisonMentoring.com from time to time. You will find life-changing stories from mentors and inmates. You can change the direction of a young man’s life forever…only to find that it has been a life-changing event for you!
For information or guidance, please feel free to email me and my ministry partners: Ed@PrisonMentoring.com…we will be happy to help you get started.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I thank the author, Ed Spencer, for introducing me to prison ministry about 5 years ago. He has been a tireless mentor of incarcerated men and boys for over a decade. Many families have benefited from his ministry efforts, and many have felt the love of God through his actions. Thanks again, Ed. Rick DiLaurenzo: Rick@PrisonMentoring.com