California has a high inmate population and many children have been left behind to struggle with the loss and pain from absentee parents. Riverside is the fourth largest County in California, and overcrowding of prison facilities and institutions is a growing problem.2 In the year 2000, about 856,000 children had a parent in the California Adult Criminal Justice System: 564,000 adults were on parole or probation, 195,000 were in state prison and 97,000 were in County jail.3 Community Outreach Ministry (COM) is a 501C3 non-profit organization founded in 2000 in Riverside County, California by my husband Bob and I “because we wanted to do more for at-risk kids.”1 COM offers emergency referrals, outreaches, camping, and are trained to train mentors by Christian Association of Youth Mentoring. God called me in a dream to take the Gospel to children who struggle with dire humanitarian needs to meet their felt needs.
I grew up in a lower socio-economic neighborhood with families lacking education, work skills, high unemployment and underpaying jobs. The children were oppressed, used drugs, committed crime, dropped out of school, in gangs, and were vulnerable to incarceration. They were victims of violence, hopelessness, accessing illicit drugs and were affected by intergenerational family deficits. It was common to see young people and adults hauled away in the paddy wagon by the police and taken into incarceration. Evil spirits influenced people to commit crimes robbing children of their innocence. Children high on drugs stole cars, committed burglary and were sent to juvenile detention. The children and families were held hostage by Satan and they did not know how to escape the evil, oppression, poverty, and injustices. There was a dark a dark cloud that hung over my neighborhood and it was because the light of the Gospel was void. Consequently, the devastating results of a silent church was children were dropping out of school, incarcerated and their lives were cut short. They self-destructed from drug overdoses, gang stabbings and gunshots.
In The Substance of Things Hoped For: A Memoir of African-American Faith by Samuel DeWitt Proctor, he was quoted as saying, that we were living in times of crises, violence, and drugs, and many children will be incarcerated.4 Proctor was an educator, public servant and adviser to presidential administrations, community leader and mentor. He said, we must reach back and help families who were spiraling downhill in poverty and lift them up to lead productive lives.5 He further said the church must reach out and help the children and families spiritually and educationally. As key to their success, he said that the church must reach the children with healing, mentoring, and morals, to put faith back into the children and families.6 Proctor gave examples of inspiring thousands of young people who diverted incarceration. Instead of being criminals, they became doctors, lawyers, businessmen, preachers, and contributing citizens.7 Proctor’s legacy continues to impress upon me the critical need these children have to know they belong to God. He loves, values and accepts them and has a prosperous plan for their future.
Launching Children’s Liberation to End Incarceration
In my doctoral study I selected a qualitative research narrative case study framework approach resulting in the development of new programming innovations and strategies to intervene in children affected by incarceration. Children of incarcerated parents face multiple risk factors and are victims of oppression, poverty, illiteracy, and injustices by those stronger than them. God has compelled me to reach this underserved population greatest at-risk of becoming the next generation of inmates with the Gospel giving them a second chance to be winners and champions. As an advocate, I am a voice for the voiceless improving or creating new policies and legislation to change their world from hopelessness and strengthen their faith for a vibrant future. My doctoral dissertation was published on August 26, 2015, “Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration: Stories of My Work As A Missionary To Children of Incarcerated Parents.”
My Old and New Testament foundational Scriptures were, Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:3-4). The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).
The need is great as children of incarcerated parents nationwide may be six8 or seven9 times more likely than other at-risk youth of becoming the next generation of inmates. According to the Justice Policy Institute, the United States has the highest rate of adult and youth incarceration worldwide. At a recent bipartisan summit on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C. an understanding was reached that the national incarceration rate has grown by 800 percent since 1985.10 Crime control policy leaders and experts have a goal to reduce the prison population by fifty percent in ten years to sustain a civil society.11 Representatives from Juvenile Justice and youth development concurred prevention needs to remain “at the table, not on the table,” says Gordon McDougall,12 Criminal Justice Reform and Youth: A Moment of Opportunity.”
Moving forward I have a few goals that I would like to accomplish. First is to transpose my doctoral dissertation into a popular culture book. Hopefully the children’s stories will ignite more ministers to replicate how the Lord has effectively used this ministry to reach the unreached people with the Gospel. It is also imperative to collaborate with local, state, government agencies, churches, non-profits, concerned organizations, stakeholders, policymakers and funders to raise awareness of these children as a hidden and invisible population. The model “Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration,” and resources for children, caregivers and incarcerated parents are enhancing the children’s capacity to be socially, spiritually and educationally prepared for healthy futures, college, and vocation to improve their sufficiency to be self-supporting and to overcome adversity. And, to add the new programming interventions across the literature to help reduce the loss of education, loss of earnings, avoid dependency on public assistance, the likely hood of youth confinement, and potential recidivism saving the taxpayers and government money.13
The Scripture verses explored in this study revealed that God demolishes evil, liberates people from oppression, and protects the weak and needy. Further, Jesus provides restitution and justice to the poor, the widows and the orphans who have been wronged. God bound Himself through Jesus to fulfill His commitment to give good news to the poor and downtrodden, declared liberty to the prisoners, restored sight to the sightless, and ushered in the year of the Lord’s favor. Just as it was necessary for Asaph to ask God to restore justice to the children of Israel, it is necessary for me to pray for God’s judgment against wickedness, for the restoration of justice and liberation for these underserved and underrepresented children.
1Lynn Loyd, “Area Ministry Strives to Help Kids,” U-T The Californian, July 14, 2014, 1.
2Jeff Horseman, “Jail Needs Could Lock Up County Funds,” The Press Enterprise South West, October 13, 2013.
3Charlene Wear Simmons, “Children of Incarcerate Parents,” California Research Bureau 7, no. 2 (March 2000), 2.
4Samuel DeWitt Proctor, The Substance of Things Hoped For: A Memoir of African—American Faith, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1995), xvi-xviii.
8“Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Toolkit for Senior Corps Directors,” Links, Enrichment Academic Needs to Students Afterschool Programs (LEARNS), Corporation for National and Community Service under a Cooperative Agreement Number 01CAOR0034, (June 2004), 1-14.
9 Amanda Petteruti, Marc Schindler, and Jason Ziedenberg, “Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price for Youth Incarceration,” Justice Policy Institute of Washington, D.C., December 2014, 5.
13Petteruti, Schindler, and Ziedenberg.
Dr. Mona Davies works with Community Outreach Ministry which she founded with her husband Bob in Riverside County, California.