SafeHouse Ministries “Then the righteous will answer him,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and
feed you, or thirsty and give you
something to drink? When did we see
you a stranger and invite you in, or
needing clothes and clothe you? When did
we see you sick, or in prison and go to
visit you?" The King will reply,"I tell you
the truth, whatever you did for one of the
least of these brothers of mine,
you did for me."
- Matthew 25:37-40
United Way

 

GED

 

As of October 5, 2009, the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry has a full-time Chaplain in the Muscogee County Jail. Prior to that time, there was limited religious programming available in the jail. A small number of licensed or ordained ministers (limit 2 per church) came into the jail on Sundays between 2 and 3pm.; this same group visited individual inmates from noon till 2pm Monday through Friday by video. On an average Sunday, 5-7 men and 1 or 2 women would minister to the inmates. At best, 33% of the inmates had access to a minister on any given Sunday. Today, ministerial visitation hours have been doubled. We now have over 30 ministers coming in the jail on Sunday afternoons, and we offer Bible studies in every cellblock every week.

The ministry gives away 150 Bibles to inmates each month. The Gideon’s, other ministries and area churches donate new Bibles; Free On the Inside (NIRV) Bibles, King James and New King James.  We give away 150 "Daily Bread" devotionals, 250 “Faith to Faith” devotionals and 250 "Word For Today" devotionals each quarter. We are able to get hundreds of free Christian books donated and put Christian books in each cellblock.

Assistant chaplains assigned to the various floors of the jail facilitate a Bible study in each cell each week; ministerial counseling is also available for the inmates.

Our ministry looked for a good discipleship program but found that all of them were hard for the inmates to understand, that they didn't speak to their needs, or on their level. God led us to write "The Nehemiah Project", a 13-week study that includes role playing scenarios designed to highlight how The World, The Flesh and God view each subject studied.

Isaiah 55:11 says the word will never return to the Lord void. In the Muscogee County Jail the word is read and studied. Lives are changing, souls are being set free and Jesus is proclaimed.

The Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry is led to not only address salvation with the inmates, but also to equip them to successfully transition back into the community. Our challenge is that 67% of released inmates will return within 3 years, most of those within the first 6 months. We have created a reentry program to assist inmates with their transition back into the community.

80% of incarcerated Americans were arrested because of drugs and/or alcohol.  A U.S. Department of Justice study shows that the average active addict will commit 140 felonies in six months time.  A rehabilitated, Christian ex-offender will not commit those crimes in our city.

Area churches led the effort to form the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry, Inc (a 501(c)3 not for profit corporation).   This corporation began raising money and identifying resources necessary to assist ex-offenders.  November 1, 2010, the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry opened the “SafeHouse” across the street from the Muscogee County Jail.  This is a resource center to assist transitioning ex-offenders.  The specific needs of the former inmates are identified and resources are targeted to make the transition successful.   The SafeHouse also offers 12 step meetings and support groups, free lunch 365 days a year, clothing, transportation, and a safe place to re-group and avoid old behaviors.  There are 7 computers online for job search or research.  We offer computer training, G.E.D. tutoring and one-on-one counseling.  Mentors and accountability partners are available to assist newly released inmates as they begin their journey back into society.  Columbus Regional sends their mobile clinic to the SafeHouse once each month beginning in August of 2014 from 7:30am to Noon to provide medical screening and referrals to those in need. 

Due to dangerous weather conditions in January of 2014, we moved the SafeHouse into Rose Hill Methodist Church, 2101 Hamilton Road.  We were able to provide emergency housing to over 45 people each night during the snow and freezing conditions.  Additionally, we were able to provide assistance to over 200 people during the three days below freezing.  During subsequent dangerously cold nights we have sheltered over 80 people a night. The additional space means that we can serve more men and women as God continues to grow this ministry.

the SafeHouse has become a day center for homeless people, men and women seeking recovery as well as ex-offenders. We provide FREE breakfast and lunch 365 days a year, serving over 5,000 meals each month.

We have joined a Faith Community Initiative called Bridge to Hope in the Valley to collaborate and combine resources to not only feed the hungry but also to assist them in getting back on their feet and off the streets.

We determined that our biggest challenges were addiction, housing and employment.  These obstacles required more than the faith community; we needed the entire community to be successful.

Our initial focus was to take an aggressive approach to the drug problem among our inmates.  We offer AA and NA and Christ centered 12-step groups; we bring individuals who have successfully recovered from addiction to share their success with inmates; we provide individual and group counseling for inmates, and we have opened an entire recovery cellblock in the jail to bring resources for those seeking freedom from drugs and alcohol.  Participants are chosen based on prior behavior and their desire to remain drug free by giving their lives to Jesus Christ.

However, programs inside the jail are not enough.  Cocaine Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous were readily available through the Agape House (8th St and 3rd Ave), in addition to other locations throughout the community.   We noticed very little assistance available within the faith community, so we were instrumental in forming the Christ Centered Recovery Network from a small number of churches that were active in the fight against addiction.  Originally, members of the Christ Centered Recovery Network offered four meetings a week.  Our initial goal was to have at least two meetings a day.  We determined that the fellowship available through shared meals would increase the effectiveness of the meetings.   Presently, there are at least two recovery meetings every day, Monday through Saturday and one on Sunday, most offering a free meal and fellowship.

Some individuals need more than self-help groups; some need residential treatment.  There are some good residential treatment programs in our area:  The House of T.I.M.E. and Damascus Way for women; Valley Rescue Mission for men; Teen Challenge has programs throughout the world for men, women, teens, even women with children; The House of Mercy offers programs for men and women; New Horizons, St Francis Hospital and Bradford Health offer inpatient or outpatient addiction counseling and treatment programs.

Regarding housing, we were able to find short-term housing and several halfway house programs for men within our community.  Valley Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, the House of Mercy and the Plummer Home are all partners in this area.  However, there are few, if any, temporary housing options available for disadvantaged women and children.   Trinity Episcopal Church of Columbus offered the financial resources to rehab a six-unit apartment building, leased to the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry, Inc by the City of Columbus, to open a 24 bed women’s facility called the Trinity House of Columbus.  Fort Benning (our local Army Base) donated new furniture and appliances to house and feed 24 women.

As we operated the Trinity House of Columbus, we began focusing our energies on women transitioning from homelessness.  While offering our clients a place to stay, we help them save money so they can move out of the facility into apartments or houses of their own.

We observed that while there are shelters for men in need, there are no transitional facilities for men.  We began praying for a men’s transitional facility.  In August of 2013 we were deeded a 3 building, 12 unit abandoned apartment complex in need of repair.  Born from a drug infested area in Beallwood, the Grace House is a 48 bed facility serving homeless men.

We have become “A Home away from Home-lessness” for men, women and children.  Our clients get jobs, save money and eventually move out on their own, becoming productive members of society.  Over half of those who stay with us leave to a place of their own and over half of those are still living and working on their own after a year.

In the area of employability, we realized that we needed several areas of focus; reading skills, literacy; high school education; training in job search; and resource identification.  We partner with South Georgia Technical College to provide G.E.D. testing in the jail.  The Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry provides books, workbooks, teachers and tutors who teach G.E.D. classes in the jail, and provides tutoring after incarceration.  To date, we have provided G.E.D. testing for over 200 inmates; over 130 have passed the test and become high school graduates.  Of the over 200 men and women who have tested, only 35% have returned to jail, compared to over 67% of general population.

We have formed a partnership with the Columbus Library.  They have provided over 22,000 paperback books for the formation of a library in the jail.  Inmates check out books from our library cart that visits every cellblock in our facility twice a month.

We offer training in the jail and through the “SafeHouse” in job search, interview skills and resume preparation.  We also work with the Georgia Department of Labor to make sure inmates and ex-offenders are aware of the resources available to them.  Any ex-felon in America qualifies for a free $5,000 employment bond through the federal government, and the Georgia TOPPSTEP program allows any Georgia employer who hires an ex-felon up to $2,400 back on their taxes.

Additionally, we have been able to identify community based organizations that assist with identification, clothing, emergency food, medical and mental health, transportation, housing, and personal needs of the men and women we serve.  The program has been exciting as government, civic and charitable organizations, the faith community and citizens have joined together to make resources available for those transitioning back into our community.  

We have opened a Veterans dorm in the jail to work with men who served their country find the resources to leave jail and not come back.  We offer drug and alcohol programming, PTSD seminars and support groups, mental health counseling, and exit planning.  Local veterans groups recruit and provide mentors for the men in the dorm to aid in their transition.  We have partnered with the Plummer Home to provide housing upon release for our veterans.

We have opened a Fatherhood dorm in the jail where we teach parenting, communications, anger management and proper discipline.  The Columbus Library teaches a class on how to teach a child to read and they provide children’s books for the men to practice.  At graduation from the program, we allow the children and mothers to come to the jail to witness the graduation ceremony and the fathers read to their children, some for the first time ever.  There is evidence that children who are not read to by their parents by age 4 have a 62% chance of being incarcerated.  This program will help end the generational cycle of incarceration and give these fathers the opportunity to give their children a chance to succeed.

Sharing the love of Jesus is bringing hope alive and lives are changing in the Muscogee County Jail.  An additional, unexpected benefit of this program is that violence, both inmate on inmate and inmate on staff is down.  This is the exact opposite of the national trend.  Our jail is safer since we began reentry programming.

As God moves through this ministry men and women are changing their lives and becoming good neighbors; our city doesn’t face 140 felonies in the next 6 months from each of these.  Ultimately, Columbus is a safer and better community.

 

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