The Changing Role of Faith Communities in a Community-Oriented Approach to Prison Ministry

D.C. Chapter meets with Dr. Harold Dean Trulear of Healing Communities

By Emily Woodell, Intern at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

 The tough issues surrounding effective prison ministry were the focus of the February meeting of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Religion Communicators Council, which featured guest speaker Dr. Harold Dean Trulear.

As the Director of the Healing Communities Prison Ministry and Prisoner Reentry Project, Trulear has years of experience working in communities affected by incarceration. He also serves as Associate Professor of Applied Theology and Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at the Howard University School of Divinity, a position he has held since 2003. During the RCC meeting, Trulear focused on the organization’s unique, community-oriented approach to prison ministry and the vital role of faith communities in ensuring its effectiveness.

 Dr. Trulear and Healing Communities believe the classic Christian approach to prison ministry is fundamentally flawed because of its focus on evangelism over rehabilitation. Trulear said their model treats people in a prison the same way most faith communities treat people in a hospital, focusing more on the individual and his or her needs at that moment. In order to bring about change, ministries must work to erase the shame and stigma that often accompanies imprisonment by encouraging dialogue within communities affected by incarceration. This conversation elevates individual trials into a public issue for faith groups to rally behind.

 Because Healing Communities works to create an environment of honesty and sharing, people can feel more comfortable discussing how they have been impacted by incarceration. One of the major goals of the organization is to find ways to keep families together who have been affected by imprisonment. Regular visitation and telephone contact strengthen these ties, but they are often prohibitively expensive, especially for low-income families. Through work with other organizations, Healing Communities successfully lobbied the FCC to lower the cost of interstate phone calls in federal prisons, enabling families to connect with their incarcerated loved ones.

Healing Communities works to help people understand that they were "not arrested, but rescued" from these harmful lifestyles, guiding them toward a positive and hope-filled future. The organization focuses on creating a web of encouragement for incarcerated individuals, ensuring they have a positive outlook and adequate support during reentry.

For more on Dr. Trulear and Healing Communities, visit Healing Communities.

 
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