Faith Matters: Supporting life after jail: St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield hosts ‘Moving Forward: From Incarceration to Community’ April 13

Hetty Startup is interfaith council at Ashfield UCC.

Hetty Startup is interfaith council at Ashfield UCC. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By HETTY STARTUP

Interfaith Council, Ashfield UCC

Published: 03-15-2024 3:24 PM

There are many citations about prison fellowship and ministry in the Bible, including the Psalms, the Book of Isaiah and perhaps most well-known, chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel.

At St. John’s Episcopal Church this spring, the teachings are being taken to heart when, Saturday, April 13, this church is sponsoring a half-day conference about life after jail entitled, “Moving Forward: From Incarceration to Community.” St. John’s Ashfield has had ideas for such an event from before the pandemic, and from other ministry work it had initiated then, but this special forum has three main goals. It seeks, first, to deepen the education of our communities about the challenges, issues, and opportunities for those moving from incarceration to life beyond jail.

Second, the conference is presenting a half dozen break-out sessions and workshops that have practical, real-word strategies and resources to add to initiatives and solutions already in place. Third and perhaps most important in the short term, the organizers seek to provide presenters, facilitators, and all attendees with an important occasion to network, to further connections between the people and the agencies on the front line of this issue.

Previously incarcerated people usually experience re-entry into society in different ways and a theme of the conference will address what kinds of support we need to adjust to life outside of prison or jail, and ways to help ease that transition. The implication is also to stem the incidence of recidivism. “Incarcerated individuals often come out of jails and prisons with few resources”, says the Rev. Vicki Ix, vicar at St. John’s. “Our ‘Love in a Backpack’ program has opened our eyes to the challenges these people face. We are excited to welcome knowledgeable speakers representing multiple perspectives to help us deepen our understanding of the transition from incarceration to community.”

The format for the day, after morning introductions at the church, will take the form of workshop sessions next door at the Curtis House where participants can choose from the following topics: 1) The lived experience of incarceration; 2) The realities of addiction and recovery; 3) The evolving role of the legal system: lessons learned; 4) Knowledge is Power: the transformative power of education and literacy; and lastly, 5) Finding meaningful work.

A special part of the day will be an after lunch presentation from the class of 2024 from Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield who will talk about their film “The Roots of Change.” The film is sponsored by the First Congregational Church (UCC) of Ashfield as part of its Young Voices: Listening to our Youth initiative. This initiative is funded in part by grants from the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

A final round table will be moderated by Nell Todd, a consultant to the U.S. Dept of Justice on criminal justice issues. She explains that “Individuals coming out of jail are challenged to find housing, a job, and continue their education, [as well as] reconnect with their family, and restore their self-esteem. The moment of transition is a particularly vulnerable and scary time. This forum will help educate the community about the challenges facing individuals moving from incarceration to community so we can be more welcoming and understanding of their special needs.”

At the Curtis House there will be tables offering resources designed to help those incarcerated move into the community. Attendees will also have the chance to come away with practical ways to help.

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The program runs from 8.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. Registration begins at 8 a.m. at the church. Walk-ins are welcome but pre-registration is preferred as lunch is included. The conference starts with welcoming remarks and introductions at 9 a.m. in the church sanctuary. Breakout sessions and a free lunch will be held at the Curtis House, next to the church. St. John’s is in Ashfield on the corner of Main and South Streets.

For more information, call and leave a message at the church at 413-628-4402 as the event is open to the public. Pre-registration is encouraged through the church website at www.stjohnsashfield.org. The office email (stjohnsashfield@gmail.com) and phone line are checked several times a day. A grant from the Community Foundation of Western Mass in Springfield has made it possible for this event to be offered free of charge.