If you knew someone in your community had not had a visitor in 25 years, would you go see that person? What if that person was in prison? In 2008, United Methodist Communications met a group of committed volunteers who were reaching out to a forgotten population and hoping to change their futures.
(Locator: Nashville, Tennessee)
(Inmate Joe Collins staring through the chain-link fence) "This is the closest I been to outside in a long time."
Joe Collins is one of 700 inmates at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville, Tennessee.
(Sequence goes back and forth, with Judy reading the letter and Joe writing it) "Dear Judy, thank you for keeping me up on everything. I have been locked up since May of 2003. (Judy's voice) &ellipsis;and as of yet I have not had a visit."
Joe, like many here, longs for contact with the outside world. A few find that contact through a pen pal program organized by nearby Christ United Methodist Church.
Joe Collins, Inmate: "I talked to a guy who hadn't had a visit in over 16 years. Now he gets regular cards and his pen pal and her husband come out every few months and visit him."
Bill Pelfry's pen pal was his first visitor in 27 years.
Bill Pelfry, Inmate: "Most of us don't like ourselves. We need someone to instill some kind of love in us, give us some hope."
Dennis Rogers, Pelfry's Pen Pal: "It was really neat to just walk up to this man and just get a hug and a handshake by a simple man who was just like me."
Church volunteers also keep in touch through weekly church services and Bible studies at the prison.
Bible study leader : "How did y'all do this week in the Hebrews?"
Marcus Hamilton was in prison since he was 17. The church is giving him a new start, helping with an apartment, a car, donated clothes,
Church volunteer to Hamilton: "Do you think that will that fit you?"
&ellipsis; and a vital support system.
Marcus Hamilton, Former Riverbend Inmate: "It's just so many things you have to do that normal, everyday people already have&ellipsis; like a driver's license, ID, insurance, finding themselves a job."
Warden Ricky Bell, Riverbend Prison: "Over 70 percent of prisoners will return."
Riverbend Warden Ricky Bell believes in the program he's seen too many inmates come back.
Warden Ricky Bell, Riverbend Prison: "They were on the street. Unless they had family support, inmates just didn't have any help."
Joe Collins, Inmate: "Eventually most of us are going to get out. And some of us are going to be your next door neighbors."
Over a dozen inmates have joined Christ United Methodist and seen how this community is committed to seeing these men get a second chance.
The Rev. Tom Gildemeister, Christ United Methodist Church: "Let's be honest about it, if anyone is not welcome in the church, where are they welcome?"
Learn more about the prison ministry and other ministries at Christ United Methodist Church at 615-790-2112.
This video was produced by United Methodist Communications.
Posted: Dec. 3, 2008