5 things your congregation can do to support prison concerns
1. Educate yourselves about mass incarceration
Whether you have direct experience or not, get background information, and educate yourselves about the problem of mass incarceration.
- Start a New Jim Crow reading group using provided study guide
- Start a Beyond Prisons study group
- Hold a public education event using Broken on all Sides, The House I Live in, Redemption of the Prosecutor, or this Stopmax video.
2. Develop a writing or visiting program in your congregation
Connecting with a person in prison through writing or visiting will change you. As you mentor someone doing a life or long/indeterminate sentence, you will simultaneously be mentored by that person. You can volunteer at a federal prison through Prisoner and Visitation Support.
As you bear witness to prison conditions and realities, you will become an outside monitor of prison conditions and problems. Eventually, your congregation can build from this experience to develop strategies to deal with these issues. If your congregation is working with more than one or two people, you may discover trends in problems.
It is important to develop relationships with legislators, ombudspeople, and corrections administrators who might be able to stop the problems before they escalate.
We are happy to consult on how to address prisoner rights cases that may surface (access to appropriate health care, mental health care, access to parole, access to programming and education, access to visits, over-classification including the use of solitary confinement, food quality, and so on).
3. Provide support to prisoners’ families and people returning from prison
As a mentor to the child of a person living in prison or a helper to someone reentering your community from prison, you could:
- Meet for a weekly or monthly meal
- Provide transportation to school or work
- Help with school applications/enrollment
- Assist with a job search
- Rent a room (rent can be many things—house work and/or money exchanged)
Visit healingcommunitiesusa.org for other resources that may be helpful in working with folks re-entering the community.
4. Get your congregation inside the prison walls
Once your meeting/church has established contact with people in prison, you can begin to ask some specific questions about what kind of education, support, volunteer/prisoner-run programs they need help organizing inside.
To get your program off the ground, recruit volunteers who are committed to having a regular, dedicated presence inside.
Your congregation can work on developing a program curriculum in coordination with people living inside, or starting a worship group inside if people inside request one. If you teach higher education, get involved with Inside Out.
Michigan and New York staff can offer guidance based on state specific experience if you need help.
5. Get political
All of the above are political actions, but you can become directly linked to ongoing campaigns in communities throughout the country.
Anti-solitary confinement work in various states throughout the country: Illinois, New Jersey, California, New York Arizona, Maine, and Michigan.
Follow Solitary Watch for up-to-date information.
Get your Yearly Meeting or Quarterly Meeting to develop a statement or minute against prison and detention center privatization, solitary confinement and torture, and/or other criminal justice related issues.
Your congregation can also learn more about the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (DOCD), which is the collection of documents that underpinned genocide of Native Americans, enslavement of blacks, the Law of Nations, Manifest Destiny, and the post-Civil War building of the carceral system, and that is the backbone of Federal Indian Law.
You can study toward potential repudiation of DOCD. New England Yearly Meeting and AFSC staff in Maine can answer inquiries about this.
- Download more resources for you and your congregation.
- Learn more about the Quaker Initiative to end Torture
- Join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Bill Mefford is working to start a group of grassroots religious leaders to create a movement against mass incarceration. You can contact him to get involved:Bill Mefford, Director, Civil and Human Rights for The United Methodist ChurchGeneral Board of Church and SocietyThe United Methodist Church100 Maryland Avenue NE, Suite 310Washington DC 20002202-488-5657