This past summer, we were blessed by today’s minister on the topic of Ageism. Being a woman of many gifts and talents, God has also used her in another area of ministry – prison ministry. We share her testimony and insights below…
A sad reality of the prison industry is the incarceration of children. Youth detention centers become the entrance for the broader prison system. Jesus declared that the Spirit of the Lord anointed Him to, among other things, “set the captives or prisoners free (Luke 4:18).” Our featured clergywoman for today sought to do just that in her work within the juvenile detention center and ministry to females in prison. From 1988-1997 The Reverend Julia Moses served as the Superintendent of the Youth Development Center in Hudson, Ohio. There God used her as a beacon of hope, light, life and love to young people headed towards destruction.
Shepastor Interview with
The Reverend Julia Moses
Retired Superintendent, The Youth Development Center
Tell us how you became involved in prison ministry and in what capacities have you served regarding this ministry.
In the month of May, 1988, I was employed by the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, as a Labor Relations Specialist. The duties of this office included conducting disciplinary hearings for employees at various agencies, and determining what administrative action should be meted out to employees for various offenses of misconduct in the workplace.
In the midst of preparing for an upcoming hearing in my office, I was informed by the secretary that a visitor was in the waiting room, and wanted to talk to me. Hurrying to get my paperwork together, I briefly stuck my head in the room. I was greeted by a man who introduced himself as the Director of the Department of Justice Affairs. He went on to state that he had a position open in his department for a person who would be the Superintendent of the Youth Development Center, in Hudson Ohio. He asked if I would be interested. I was in fact familiar with the establishment, since I conducted many disciplinary hearings there. After much prayer, and in consultation with my husband, and many friends, I applied and was selected for the position.
On September 10, 1988, I began my new job as Superintendent of the "Youth Development Center," which housed one hundred and twenty juvenile delinquents, and one hundred thirty employees. Thirty employees were staff, and one hundred were members of the AFSCME Local Bargaining Union. The age range of the children was as young as ten up to 18 years old. Every Wednesday, children who were new admissions would be transported from the Juvenile Court, to Hudson. They would arrive in handcuffs and ankle chains. I was on call twenty-four hours a day. Many times I was summoned to come to the facility late at night, if there was an attempted escape by a student.
A school was right on the spacious 365 acres of land. Security guards and staff escorted the students to school. I visited each cottage to talk to the students and to listen to them. Some of the students were so starved for love and attention that I would spend long hours with them, counseling and listening to them. One of my main goals was to clean up, and organize a committee to work on projects so that we could become an accredited Institution. In 1990, we became accredited by the American Correctional Association. Even the students got involved, and enjoyed the treats for a job well done. Many times I went to the judges chambers to speak and appeal to the judges on behalf of the students. I counseled employees and families about being more attentive to the needs of the children.
In 1997, I retired from the Youth Development Center, and then volunteered at the Women's Pre-Release Prison for six years. I taught a class on Tuesday nights titled, "Lessons for Life." When the women left the facility, I followed up with them by visiting them in the rehab centers. I have had the joy of cultivating and nurturing many women who relocated to transitional housing. Occasionally I have encountered former students who were in the prison. They are still very appreciative of the times we shared praying together and studying the Word of God.
The Lord has blessed me to be a change agent in the lives of those He loves. People in prisons, and people in Hospitals, have much in common. They both, at varying levels experience the loss of their identity, personal possessions, friends, family, hope, and name. They become a number.
Explain the concept of “pipeline to prison” in America and
the impact individuals, families and communities?
The pipeline to prison in America, begins with the "Cradle to Prison Pipeline." Our goal must be to break the pipeline. There are many generational factors that lead to the pipeline theory. In some families and communities, grandfathers, fathers and sons all went to prison, and the cycle continued.
Many African American, and Hispanic boys as early as five years of age, find themselves in the pipeline. Father in Jail, Mother at work,
teenage single mother at home, boys not going to school. The community, individuals, and families are all affected by the pipeline, because
there are moral issues involved that perpetuate this system. Real life examples include 12 year old girls having to drop out of school, due to pregnancy. This leads to single parenting, poverty, depression, isolation, desperation and in many cases, crime.
As her children get to be a certain age, they begin to feel the lack of attention or love, and thus they begin to act out in school. Soon they begin getting into fights, get suspended for long periods of time for violating the Zero tolerance policy. They wander the streets and get picked up for truancy and the list goes on. The two main culprits in this dilemma (as I see it) are race, and poverty. In order to break the pipeline, we all have to get involved. Schools need to provide better educational opportunities for the students, and increase participation in the Big Brothers, and Big Sisters program who can mentor and tutor the children. Communities have to become more invested in building lives and not correctional facilities!
How can clergy help?
Clergy can help by becoming stations of hope, committed to being that prophetic voice for those who have no voice, to advocate for the least of these, and become community leaders and mentors for those who sit in the pews.
How can churches help?
Churches can help by being a healing community, reaching out to the families of the incarcerated. They can develop a Bible study for the incarcerated. Begin educating church members, through Scriptural illustrations of ministry to prisoners and the “least of these.” Show love to all people. Develop faith bonds with the returning person. Write letters to prisoners prior to release.
What guidance would you give to individuals desiring to get involved in prison ministry?
Become a good listener and let the person tell their story. Don't interrupt. Provide support for the returning person. Ask if the person is amenable to your praying for him/her. Keep the relationship from getting too personal. Give the person room. Don't try to accomplish everything in one fell swoop. Do not give out personal information (phone number, etc).
Are you involved in ministry to “at-risk” youth? Do you have a testimony concerning God’s movement in the lives of young people, catching them before they fell into the abyss of the prison system? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com
Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,