Alvin Worthley has been a prison chaplain at institutions
across the United States, and most recently was assistant chaplaincy
administrator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C.,
before becoming correctional ministries representative at the Assemblies
of God Headquarters in Springfield, Mo. Worthley spoke recently
with Joel Kilpatrick, an associate editor of the Pentecostal
Evangel: Give us some statistics on the inmate population in
the United States.
In 1999, we passed the 2 million mark in the overall inmate population
in the United States. This country incarcerates more people per
capita than any other nation in the world. We also have more victims
of crime who need ministry. Those who are really interested in reaching
the United States today cannot ignore the incarcerated population.
Evangel: What challenges do inmates face when they are released
Worthley: The men who have a conversion experience and are
growing in Christ have a difficult time transitioning to local churches.
Churches, like society at large, can be afraid of having ex-offenders
as part of the congregation. Theres a misunderstanding of
who they are. They lump them all as being the worst offenders.
The inmates themselves are often afraid of the local churches.
They are not like the churches inside the prison. They dont
get the fellowship. Its difficult for them to develop relationships.
We need to bridge that gap.
Prisoners need relationships with people in the outside community
to bring some normalcy to the religious experience inside the jail.
Volunteers are great at that.
Evangel: Tell us about your new duties.
Worthley: I will be working with jails at all levels and
with districts to establish district-wide volunteer programs. I
anticipate working with local churches to develop programs to assimilate
ex-offenders into the life of the church. Thats been a missing
link in prison ministry. Some churches have stepped forward, but
not on a systematic basis.
As a department, we want to assist churches in getting involved
in what we call ministry to the "fourth world." Restorative
justice has been a key term in recent years; making people productive
people, good neighbors. The church offers the best way to make that
happen, but it takes volunteers. We can work with churches to develop
programs that work for the ex-offender and the church.
The government is asking faith-based groups to be involved. In
Texas, for example, there is a whole unit with its own warden that
is working with inmates in a Christian environment. The statistics
are very good that those going through the program are not going
back to prison at the same rate most prisoners do. This makes it
cost-effective for the government to have churches involved.
Churches that want to be involved should contact the chaplaincy
office. There is also a great need for chaplains who can work as
full-time employees. There is a great need for individuals who are
willing to make a one-year commitment to mentor ex-offenders for
several hours a week to bring them into the church and society.
We are looking for those who are willing to be called alongside
Evangel: Talk about how to volunteer in prison ministry.
Worthley: Volunteers need to understand how important it
is to go through a training program. They need to acclimate themselves
to a different culture. There are many restrictions placed on private
individuals who want to go inside an institution. There are freedom-of-information
regulations and rules on how to relate to inmates. Volunteers need
to have a call and a commitment to be part of the volunteer program.
Its not as difficult as people think, but they need to go
through the process. Its different for people who want to
go in once a week for a Bible study than for those who want to go
in every day for more in-depth relationships. Just being there is
more important than what a volunteer says. Volunteers are needed
to show that living a Christian life is possible on the outside.
Two of the fastest-growing areas are female and juvenile offenders.
Juvenile crimes are much more violent. Juveniles are harder to reach.
They have no sense of values. The women do respond to the gospel
and are hungry for mentorship. Many juveniles havent had the
parenting they should have. Many come from broken homes and long
for love and attention and someone to show them the right way and
how to live the gospel.