Seeking Restorative Justice
As Minnesota legislators are in the thick of drafting, amending and voting on bills this legislative session, we implore our elected officials to seek restorative justice in our state’s Corrections system. In the midst of these very difficult situations where victims must remain the center of our care, we also believe in reflecting the Christian hope for the rehabilitation and restoration of offenders.
At Damascus Way we hold firmly to the Christian ideals of rehabilitation and restoration. We believe the philosophical and moral principles of restorative justice should influence the corrections system, in addition to keeping the public safe.
Have you ever heard Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel’s beautiful story of restoration and forgiveness? In 1993 Mary Johnson’s only son 20-year-old Laramiun Byrd, was murdered. The perpetrator was 16-year-old Oshea Israel, who received a 25 year sentence for second degree murder. Many years later Mary visited Oshea in prison.
“I left that meeting saying, ‘I just hugged the man who murdered my son,’” said Mary Johnson.
But Mary forgave Oshea, and kept visiting him in prison. Oshea was released in 2010, and transitioned through Damascus Way Re-entry Center. Since then, Mary and Oshea have lived as neighbors in the Northside community of Minneapolis. Mary founded an organization called From Death to Life, that uses healing and reconciliation to end violence between families of victims and those who have caused harm.
We believe there is more of God’s healing and reconciliation to be had in the Kingdom of God.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. – Matthew 25:35
Voting Rights Restoration
We stand with the Minnesota Corrections Association, in believing offenders have rights deserving of protections. One policy proposal considered in the Minnesota Legislature this year is the right to restore the vote to felons. (MN- HF3344)
“Redemption is a core teaching of Christianity. That should be the goal of our justice system and the basis for how society treats those who exit it,” said Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota, an affiliate ministry of Damascus Way. See how the National Association of Evangelicals stands on the issue of restoring the vote to felons.
“This reform will promote successful reintegration into the community, as voting can be a powerful, concrete and symbolic way to contribute to one’s community and to feel invested and empowered to play a positive role,” said Cal Saari, Legislative Liaison with the Minnesota Corrections Association.
I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. – Isaiah 42:6-7
All are Capable of Change
Human beings are capable of change. No one knows that better than Christians, who have received God’s transformational grace through Jesus Christ. Because of the personal power of repentance, we are committed to rehabilitation for ex-offenders, and enacting corrections policies that are committed to rehabilitation.
The Department of Corrections currently has some excellent programs like Circles of Support that include local communities getting involved in an inmate’s release and the Apology Letter Bank wherein inmates can express their remorse to victims.
Here is a powerful excerpt from one recent apology letter on the power of repentance and forgiveness; the offender writes: “I can’t even begin to imagine the full magnitude of what I have done to those who loved her or lived in her community.”
The DOC offers often incredibly healing one-on-one meetings that can be arranged if both the victim and offender desire to meet, much like what happened in Mary Johnson and Oshea Isreal’s case.
“Any time an offender can both be confronted with the pain he has caused – and make some kind of effort at reparation (physical or emotional), the chances of a more meaningful life and a healed community are elevated,” said Craig Fruen, Executive Director of Damascus Way Re-entry Center.
The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. – Psalm 146:7-8
The Destructive Nature of Incarceration
Incarceration can be destructive and should be imposed only when necessary. Take Todd for example, Prison really messed Todd up. Todd was sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison for robbing three banks. Most of the guys in the supermax prison were in there for life, with little chance of getting out, so Todd says the inmates ran the prison. Heartbreakingly, Todd was brutally gang raped in prison more than once.
Once Todd got out of prison, he said the haunting feeling of being someone’s prey in prison, left him jumpy and scared all the time, so he turned back to drugs.
“It self-medicates me so I don’t think of the demons in my head. They (the assaulters) took my soul,” said Todd.
But thankfully Todd entered Damascus Way Re-entry Center for his work release program. Todd attended a Bible study on Sunday nights at Damascus Way, and he attended church at Oak Grove Church in Golden Valley.
“I have a lot of gratitude for this place. Without this place, where would we be? I’d be stuck in prison,” he said. To read more of Todd’s story, and how he is turning his life over to the Lord, click here.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. –Hebrews 13:3
Joining Society Following Incarceration
Reentering society following a prison sentence can be hard work, but getting involved in church and community programs can be hugely beneficial.
Oak Grove Church invites the residents at Damascus Way to worship with them on Sunday mornings. The church has a few safeguards in place in order to keep everyone safe and comfortable; Oak Grove sets up boundaries as to where the Damascus Way residents can go in the building, and they’ve established a check-in system with staff. But through their outreach, Oak Grove is helping these men reenter into society and participate as law abiding citizens of the United States and citizens of heaven.
“They are in a tough spot in making transitions, if we can encourage them, we’re glad to do it,” said Pastor Brad Little. Read more about Oak Grove’s involvement here.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. – Luke 4:18
Benefits of Transitional Housing
When offenders are released from jails and prisons, they need shelter and supervision. Stable living environments are necessary for offenders and our communities. Offenders benefit from a structured living environment that provides job training, education, counseling, fiscal management, transportation assistance, and support services. During a recent 4-year period, Damascus Way Re-entry Center’s graduates had a recidivism rate of only 7%.
At Damascus Way’s Rochester transitional home, a handful of men are participating in a discipleship program, and it’s transforming their lives. “Freedom Road” discipleship program incorporates one-on-one Christian mentoring as men who are getting ready to reenter society meet with Christian men from the community.
One Freedom Road participant and Damascus Way resident, Tavarius shared about the pull many offenders feel after prison, to go back to their old way of life.
“It was kind of like a tug-of-war because I wanted to get out and do the same things I was used to doing, but at the same time I was thinking about my kids and who I would end up as if I kept on the same path,” Tavarius said.
Tavarius said every week the group of eight men got into deep and personal topics and he appreciated having honest discussions about life and faith. Read more of his story here. We need to support these offenders as they transition into society from life behind bars, this is key to offender success and therefore critical for improving public safety.
Renewed in Spirit, Put on a New Self
We believe people like Tavarius, Oshea and Todd deserve a second-chance; an opportunity to put on their new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
We have hope that others offenders can be transformed like the author of this apology letter:
“I had no regard for others. As a central part of rehabilitation, that thinking had to drastically change… I look back at what I put your family and the community through with a tremendous sense of remorse and regret… My goals today are to help others who come into prison see how their choices and decisions impact everyone around them. I am deeply sorry for what I have done.”
To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24