I’m writing this in support of the women’s transitional home, the Haven House. This kind of safe home has been a huge need in our community for a very long time. Many of you may remember two dear women, Ramona Ignell and Ellen Campbell, who served at Lemon Creek Correctional Center for years. Each week, they faithfully went in to share the good news of the gospel to men and women behind bars.
Their shared hope was that when they next met, it would be as free individuals.
Too often, they watched as inmates achieved their freedom only to lose it and return to prison all too quickly. They wondered why this revolving door was a reality for so many who were determined to stay free. Why?
They asked and heard, over and over again, “I had no safe place to go,” or “My friends are still using and I can’t be around them,” or “my family is still so messed up, I can’t go there! That’s a big part of the reason I’m here in the first place,” and on the list went.
Ramona (who died last year after a courageous battle with cancer) and Ellen, (who has moved to the East Coast to be near family) worked diligently to find a place that would be safe, clean, secure and filled with hope.
They knew that if they could transition inmates to a home that helped them implement some of the “new healthy ways of living” that had been taught and talked about in prison, they just might make it. If they could hear it over and over and see it modeled, as somebody walked alongside them, maybe, just maybe — they could successfully re-enter our community.
Ramona, Ellen, the members of Haven House board, their great co-directors and those of us serving together on the Juneau Re-entry Coalition know that those who have succeeded have been the ones lucky enough to have a home where loving, faithful people help show them the way and hold them accountable.
As I’ve worked at Love INC for almost 10 years, we’ve been able to help many folks coming out of prison or shelters, as well as those who have hit hard times. We’ve been able to assist with the material things that we all need.
But what we’ve witnessed in mentoring or other outreach efforts in prison and on the outside has made a huge difference in their ability to lead independent, productive lives that they can be proud of. It has been hard, messy, time-consuming and yet the most rewarding experience ever.
Not all people have succeeded. Some have had relapses and made the effort to get up and try again. We are willing to invest time, care and energy because we believe that’s what we’re called to do and because that’s where we know the success lies — statistics bear it out.
People who come through faith-based programs have a much greater chance of making it on the outside. The proof is in the fact that recidivism rates drop dramatically! We see it in the numbers and we see it in those who are now leading successful lives — some for the first time ever. We all need safety nets, support systems, love, help, encouragement and mentoring. Many of us have been fortunate enough to be born into families that provide such things. Some have not.
While we can be grateful for the chances we’ve been given in our lives, we need to be willing to give our neighbors in need these chances, too. We need to cheer them on and show them the way, making our community a healthier, safer, more hopeful place. That is why I support Haven House, a safe haven that can make the prospect of successful new beginnings that much brighter for everyone in our community!
• Ann Lockhart is executive director of Love INC Juneau.