Having dedicated his life to helping prisoners and asking others to help, Andy Squires often encounters the scornful question: why should I help them?
Squires looks the person in the eye, and says in an even voice: because you’re going to hell. Once the person cools off, Squires says, the smile spreading across his tranquil face: I tell them I’m going to hell, too.
All sinners, imprisoned or not, are going to hell save for the grace of God. Squires also believes in the biblical message of Matthew 25:36: “I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
Squires’ point-blank answer to such questions is a reminder that being an advocate for prisoners takes compassion and conviction. It is no easy task, but as he and wife Bonnie Squires know through their leadership of Azalea City Prison Ministry and seven-day-a-week work with the Refuge of Hope, you must commit your life to helping prisoners renew their lives.
Asked how many days off they have enjoyed in the last year, the Squires smile. They think maybe two. Their days and nights are spent with men on parole from prison. Men making the transition from jail to freedom.
The Squires help smooth that transition.
During a nine-month program, Refuge of Hope helps parolees prepare for job interviews, readies them to reenter the work force, finds them employment, helps them earn their general equivalency diplomas, enrolls them in college classes, helps them get their driver’s licenses. Living in a dorm-style setting, parolees take turns with cooking duties and household chores. They learn to take care of themselves. By the end of the program, the men will have enough money saved to help them pay a deposit and cover the first three months of rent on housing.
We’re trying to prepare them for the world, Bonnie Squires says. She compares what they do to providing the scaffolding for personal renovation. When their job is completed, the scaffolding comes down and the men are ready to stand on their own.
Last fall, Refuge of Hope opened a new center to prepare in these endeavors. Many of the men call the new 8,800-square-foot building “the church” or the “the chapel.” Located on Refuge of Hope’s property a few miles west of Quitman off Highway 84, the building does include a spacious sanctuary large enough to hold the current maximum of 19 parolees, as well as their visitors, and even the Squires’ future dream of having five dorms for parolees, but the building also has a computer lab, classrooms, a library to help the men prepare for their new lives.
The center also has amenities for their lives at Refuge of Hope. These include a barbershop, a two-bed infirmary, a kitchen. While the men still live in a separate dormitory, the center allows more space for the Squires’ on-site residence. Their offices are now in the new center instead of their residential house. The center also includes a board room for Refuge of Hope’s board meetings and a prayer room for anyone who needs it.
Refuge does not take sex offenders, nor mentally incapacitated paroles. Parolees must be ready for a Christian-based program and undergo a rigorous application process to be accepted.
Refuge of Hope’s men must be serious about their rehabilitation. The Squires have dedicated their lives to this process and expect nothing less from the parolees.
Bonnie has been involved with prison ministries since her childhood. Her parents entered prisons to spread the word. She began ministering inside of prisons at the age of 14.
Andy began his prison work in 1979. In 1985, he started Azalea City Prison Ministry.
Andy and Bonnie married 16 years ago.
They credit God for bringing them together through their work. They credit God for leading them and board member Grady Williams to establish Refuge of Hope in 2001.
Ask them what keeps them going, the Squires again speak of God. Obedience to God, she says. We’ll do this as long as God wants us to continue, he says.
They also feel compelled by the lives they see change. Nearly 90 percent of all Refuge of Hope parolees have not returned to prison. They hear from many of the men whom have created new, successful lives. Men whom refer to Bonnie as “Mom.” Andy jokes they call him a little bit of everything.
Men whom the Squires have come to consider their sons.
More information, donate or to help with Refuge of Hope, contact (229) 263-4034; or visit www.acpmroh.org