Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pen-pals

Well, I've finished the book of Daniel and have only the last dozen short books of the Old Testiment left to read. I think I can knock those out in the next few weeks and then move on to Romans where I left off in my reading of the New Testiment. Romans is pretty deep so I'm not betting I'll complete the entire Bible by the end of the year, but at least I can rest knowing I made it this far without aborting the effort.

Today I learned about the Chronological Bible, one in which the events are written in chronological order and not repeated as they sometimes are in different books of the traditional Bible. I may begin reading that next year to help me resolve some of the confusion I have which is predominately related to the out-of-sequence nature of much of the traditional Bible. I'm so glad the wiser men of the men's discipleship group I attend indulge my questions!

In the event you are interested, below you'll find the guidelines that have been put together for the pen-pal component of the prision outreach ministry at our church. I've been working on organizing this for two weeks now; we go live next Sunday with a group gathering together to sign Christmas cards for the inmates. If you are interested in taking part in this ministry, please let me know!

Prison Pen-Pal Ministry

Thank you for volunteering to write letters of encouragement and discipleship to a Gwinnett County inmate. Few people are willing to share their time with these men and women, and as a result loneliness is one of the greatest challenges they face. Inmates who have concerned and supportive contacts in the outside world have a much lower recidivism rate than those who do not. Your act of writing a letter is indeed an act of faith - faith that you can make a positive difference in another person's life.

Here’s how the Prison Pen-Pal Ministry works:

1. An inmate will request a pen-pal by completing a response card and mailing it to the Perimeter Church pen-pal address.

2. An email will be sent to interested parties asking if you would volunteer to write to that inmate.

3. Volunteers will be matched to the inmate of his/her choosing based on his/her personal criteria and level of comfort. Once matched, you will mail the first letter from your home or business to:

Inmate Name (Required)
Inmate ID Number (Required)
Housing Unit (Optional)
Gwinnett County Detention Center
2900 University Pkwy. NE
Lawrenceville, GA 30043

You must always use the following return address:

Perimeter Church
c/o Prison Outreach
9500 Medlock Bridge Road
Duluth, GA 30097

4. Remember to put the return address on the upper left hand corner of the envelope and include it again in the body of the letter in case something happens to the envelope. The prison won't accept letters without return addresses.

5. When the inmate writes back, your mail will be forwarded to you from Perimeter Church.

6. You would then write again to your pen-pal as long and as often as you feel comfortable doing so.

Before writing your first letter, it is important to familiarize yourself with the guidelines used by our ministry:

1. Focus your letters on words of encouragement and discipleship. Your uplifting words can make their prison sentence more bearable. Encourage them toward getting an education while in prison, learning a trade, becoming more spiritual, etc.

2. Feel free to ask questions, but let your questions be about the person and not the reason why he/she is in jail. However, if the inmate volunteers information about his/her crime, it is then okay to discuss it.

3. Be careful that your questions do not lead to unrealistic expectations. For example, “Where will you live when you get out?” may be construed to mean “I want you to live with me when you get out.”

4. Write a little about yourself - your interests and hobbies, your faith journey - but avoid sharing too much personal information. Most volunteers use only their first names in all correspondence with their pen-pal. Do not reveal any information that could result in you being identified and located (full name, personal or business address, phone numbers, date of birth, etc.).

5. Indicate how often you are willing to write; twice a month is a good standard. If you are only able to write once a month, let that person know so that he or she doesn't expect your letter sooner and then become discouraged.

6. You may choose to write only inmates of your own gender, or you may write an inmate of any gender. However, if you are writing an inmate of the opposite gender, please exercise extra caution to avoid giving the appearance that you are interested in a romantic relationship.

7. If you feel strongly that you do not want to write an inmate who has committed a particular crime, you must conduct that research yourself by reviewing the inmate’s crime data at http://www.gwinnettcountysheriff.com/ (click on the badge, then “Docket Book” on the right margin, then by the first letter of the last name). While we do not object to volunteers screening the inmates, our position is one of neutrality.

8. Do NOT include stamps, money, gifts or photographs in your letters. Be aware that all inmate mail is opened and inspected at the prison before it is given to an inmate.

9. Don't write to more than one inmate at a time; it can create a rivalry between inmates.

10. You may be tempted to visit you pen-pal while he/she is in prison. This is a personal decision but one that cannot be made lightly. To visit an inmate you must give your full name and address to the prison officials, and you will be required to wear a name tag bearing that information while you are in the prison. One should be extremely cautious about creating unintended expectations; inmates may mistake your kind visit as a commitment or opportunity to exploit.

11. If you should become offended by or incompatible with your pen-pal, simply write a letter explaining your reason for choosing not to write again in the future. But please remember, all inmates are not the same. You will find every denomination, race, educational background and class inside prison walls. If you discover you don't relate well with one inmate, don't let that stop you from writing to another. As with any new person you meet, each inmate has his or her own unique qualities which may or may not be appealing to you.

Please direct all questions regarding pen-pal procedures and issues to Greg Lang at gregoryelang@gmail.com.

Write, bless and be blessed!

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