Valdosta Daily Times

November 9, 2013

Returning Hearts in prison

The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — In today’s editions of The Valdosta Daily Times, readers should find a story about a group of Valdosta State Prison inmates who earned a fun day with their children.

For the past year, through the help of prison chaplain Pat Miller and volunteers like Bill Newcomb, these prisoners have participated in a Malachi Dads program that prepares them to be better fathers even though they are behind bars. Each week, prisoners meet for sessions. They have homework. They must complete reading assignments. They must be model inmates.

Miller selects participating inmates carefully. He vets their backgrounds, the nature of their crimes, where they are in their prison sentences, how they have behaved in prison.

Once selected, the inmates must walk the line. Get in trouble, fail to complete assignments, miss two weekly sessions, they are out of the program.

But if they stick with the program, they can acquire the tools to reach out to their children and possibly build a relationship as a father to a child. The chaplain and volunteers do not make contact for the inmates. There is no guarantee the children will respond. Another family member may block the child from receiving letters from the inmate. A child may refuse to accept the letters, but the men are shown how to take their first steps in building a bridge from father to child.

On Saturday, with their course work completed, Valdosta State Prison hosted a Returning Hearts Celebration. For several hours, children were allowed into the prison to visit their fathers. Not all of the participating inmates’ children attended. Some of the attending children were youngsters; some were adults.

While children can come during any regular visitation, this celebration allowed inmates to play games with their children, carry their children, or hold their hands.

Some folks may read today’s story and wonder why so much effort would be spent on inmates who have committed robbery, rape and murder? Why would people volunteer to help people who have committed crimes?

Because even behind prison bars, there must be some glimmer of hope, these volunteers say. As the chaplain has said in the past, many of these men will one day return to the outside world. Why not allow them to build family and godly relationships that may change their relationships with society when that release date comes?

Or these volunteers may well remember their verses from Matthew, the ones which speak of clothing the naked, helping the hungry and thirsty, visiting those in prison. The verse that opens: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”