In 2008, Chris McClure started volunteering with his church’s prison ministry, and he has continued to be an active volunteer ever since.  At this week’s meeting, he educated us on things that most people don’t know about prisoners, discussed his own experiences as a volunteer, and shared ways that members interested in providing service to this population can get involved.  Among the interesting, and in many cases disturbing facts that Chris shared:
  • The technical term for prisoner is offender
  • 95% of offenders will be released, but 43% will be reincarcerated.  Of those reincarcerated, 19% will be convicted of a new crime, and the remainder will be sent back on a technicality.
  • The US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.  In Illinois we currently have 40,000 inmates.
  • In Illinois, inmates must have someone claim their clothes and possessions within 30 days of incarceration or they will be thrown out.  As a result most offenders are released in grey sweats with canvas shoes and $ 10.  
  • The prison population is disproportionately minority and poor.
 
Chris started volunteering at the Pontiac Maximum Security Prison, going cell to cell visiting inmates.  Within a year, he became part of the prison “academy” a 48 week program that is focused on training offenders and helping them develop life skills like responsible thinking, and planning for change so they can have a better chance of avoiding reincarceration upon release.  This role is considered an “inside” volunteer, and required extensive screening and background checking.  There are also “outside” volunteer opportunities that include things like letter writing, mentoring, and even picking people up.  One particular opportunity that Chris described is Angel Tree, a program that provides Christmas gifts for children of prisoners.   Anyone interested in learning more can contact Chris for information.