Doing Time on the Other Side of the Bars: Ministry to Families of Prisoners
You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that says, “My child is on the honor roll.” But you’ve probably never seen the bumper sticker that reads, “My child is at the county jail.” Linda Davis offers this contrast to stress that parents of the incarcerated are anything but proud of their children’s achievements—and often alone in their shame. Davis, who attends the Church of God in Hartville, Ohio, knows exactly what it’s like to carry the emotional weight of having a son in prison. She also knows all too well what it’s like to have no support system. And that’s a terrible problem when states like hers have fifty thousand people in the prison system.
“We’re an incarceration nation,” Davis explains. Statistics show that the United States has the highest percentage of residents behind bars of any country in the world. While several excellent ministries reach out to prisoners, prisoners leaving the system, and children of prisoners, very few focus on the needs of the parents. “I want to help families who are thrown into something they never expected,” she adds.
Davis certainly had never expected it. How could her son end up in prison? She felt alone. Like many fathers and mothers of children who are serving time, she did not know how to effectively cope with the wide range of ensuing emotions, much less navigate the complexities of the prison system. For those who have not experienced the prison system, you can’t just walk in and visit at will, and you can’t simply place a call to your incarcerated family member at any time. There are hoops to jump through. But today there is LOOP.
Loved Ones Of Prisoners (LOOP) exists to provide necessary moral, spiritual, and informational support to families of prisoners. Linda Davis, with husband Ed, founded the organization in the spring of 2012.
“This one inmate asked me if I was ashamed of my son. Oh, yes I was. My son went to prison. He was raised in church. He was at church camp. He sang in church. Yeah, I was really ashamed of him. It brings you down to a place of despair. How could this happen to me? But I had to take my eyes off of me and focus on him. So I started learning and researching, and I formed LOOP. Today I’m not ashamed of him. Today I thank God for the blessings that came out of it.” This November, Ed and Linda celebrate one year that their son has been out of prison.
LOOP offers not only practical information and resources for these families but regular support meetings, which have begun to spring up all over Ohio. At these meetings, guest speakers such as jail chaplains and drug counselors are featured, common experiences are shared, up-to-date legal information is disseminated, prison regulations are discussed, and programs available for assisting the prisoner back into society are offered.
“When watching the news, you see people who are in jail because they’ve done something wrong. They deserve it,” Davis explains. “But we don’t often think about the mother and father, the brother and sister, the grandparents. They don’t deserve it. Yet they serve time too. We want to be there for them.”
Davis recently spoke to criminal justice majors at Anderson University, as well as to School of Theology students and central Indiana pastors. Her message is spreading, and so is her model for ministering to families of prisoners. Linda connects with congregations and offers them guidance and experience for beginning a local chapter. If your church is interested in the possibilities, contact Linda Davis at 330-212-6661 or by e-mail at email@example.com.