Money is a force, a power.
It can hurt. That is, sabotage relationship, enable addiction, deter honesty, and re-enforce the power imbalances we want to undo between us.
It can also help. It can pay off debt, remove massive barriers, purchase communication possibilities, buy needed materials and wrap a vulnerable life with tangible favor.
Money can degrade the relationships we are building. Money, when used carefully in ways we’ll outline this month, can also dignify.
Here’s the two principles we want to frame all money considerations in your relationship with your releasing friend:
OPOP’s focus is always RELATIONSHIP not resources.
Say it: relationship, relationship, relationship.
What resources we do spend are for REMOVING BARRIERS to relationship and to full reentry
From postage and collect calls to huge court fines upon release, the lists below will guide your team.
We are communicating this to our currently incarcerated participants, and were up front in the application: this is about relationship, not resources.
Take away temptation for them, when applying. And for us, when we are used to offering money instead of time, trust, curiosity, and real relationship.
To keep the focus on this deeper relationship that reveals and heals, while they are still incarcerated, we do not use money for these purposes:
money on their books/accounts for commissary, food, clothing, music/media
financial help to family or friends on the outside that they ask for, or initiate (It’s quite different when you as a team see a need in a growing relationship with their loved ones on the outside and want to offer help or a gift they did not ask for. Still wait a few months before introducing the resource power to the relationship.)
Every friend I have in prison tells me folks inside are all looking for people who can help them meet these material desires. They aren’t bad desires. But the only way to ensure our relationships are real, to not incentivize telling us what we want to hear, is to have no financial gain in this relationship.
However, the following are good uses of money: to remove barriers to relationship while incarcerated:
small, $5 money orders sent to their “Postage” account for stamped envelopes to write letters with you as a team (you can’t mail them stamps)
On Jpay, attach return/reply “stamps” so they can reply at no cost. Or even Transfer Stamps (no more than 5 at a time, just to write the OPOP team)
Money on your own phone’s Advance Pay account, so they can call you at no cost.
(If, after a few months they naturally start sharing about desired contact with their children or aging mother, and have made contact, but the family on the outside lacks phone funds, try putting some money on their Inmate PIN Account to call family. This requires trust. But even better would be to get to know their family, or kids, if local, and add funds to the family member’s Advance Phone account. See the logic?)
The costs of gas and time to visit them in often distant facilities (plus some reasonable snacks and a paid visitation room photo together)
Purchasing a new book online that’s connected to something you are discussing together or reading as an OPOP team, and having it shipped directly to them in prison.
These costs are relatively small. You can decide as a team if you want to use your own money for small costs or use part of the church’s ministry or mission budget for this.
Keep it simple.
Because there are some big costs coming up at their actual reentry: big stones to roll away that only move with money.
We want to guide each OPOP team in starting to save, set aside, and strategize to gather these resources over the next year:
“ROLL AWAY THE STONE” FUND (START NOW)
Many of the “stones”—system barriers to entering the land of the living—can simply be rolled away with a debit card. The wealthy don’t stay stuck in the underground. (Mass Incarceration 101.)
Good news: that’s why we’re here. Jesus calls a community to get behind moving that barrier.
A whole church can (yes) easily round up $2,000 (a modest target we suggest) over the course of a whole year, to have ready for your returning friend’s first month or two out of prison.
Here’s our list of the most common the financial barriers to reentry we at Underground Ministries roll away every week in WA State:
Knowledge Test ~$40
Driving Test ~$40
DOL (Re)Issuing Fee ~$180
Opening Payments in Court Debt Plans, to Remove Holds on License
Average two different courts, ~$25 each court, for 2-3 months to get them started (to take holds off their licenses)= ~$150
Often folks with bad driving records are required by law to get the more-expensive SR-22 high-rish insurance. This can be ~$300 per quarter, to start off their legal driving until their eventual employment and income (and budgeting, with your help!) kicks in. Be patient.
First Month’s Rent
Hopefully your returning friend and you have found some kind of low-rent program, transitional house, recovery home, or situation. Rent can be $5-600/mo. Save us for two months’ help as they work their early reentry. This is decisive. $1,000-1,200.
Remember, we always suggest accompanying our friends through this gauntlet of offices and instead of handing hot cash to our friend. Better to bring a church debit card to swipe at those intimidating desks, as a talisman of forgiveness—erasing the barriers and burdens of sin and death.
AN EVENING OF STORYTELLING
Some congregations may prefer to build this Fund out of their church budget. Or do some fundraisers. In fact, Underground Coffee makes for an outstanding, tangible sales-based fundraiser. Let us know if you want to do this (email@example.com).
A great way to raise this money and raise awareness and enthusiasm in the congregation outside your OPOP team is to host a “Roll Away the Stone” evening event a few months into this relationship. This is the month to begin brainstorming for how to put this on the calendar. Even if you don’t use it as a fundraiser, this is a core opportunity to connect this work to the larger body.
show a clip of a film about mass incarceration we have in our modules online
offer spot testimonies of team members’ experience getting to know our friend and what they’re learning
read a portion of his/her letter from prison
show his/her face on a projector, or bulletin . . .
with a list of these financial obstacles below
and preach the story of Lazarus—how resurrection today involves Jesus communities called to help roll these obstacles away
invite congregants to give generously to the Roll Away the Stone Fund and share in this work as a body, to roll away the hefty barriers blocking full resurrection
show the list for a Welcome Home Basket (below), with a signup sheet for congregants to contribute these small-to-medium-to-larger necessities in the weeks ahead
share other ideas, needs, or opportunities for connection that have come up
pray for our friend
In addition to the $2,000 Roll Away the Stone Fund, part of the OPOP preparation is including the church in assembling a Welcome Home Basket. This gives people not on the OPOP team a chance to participate, contribute one item off the following list, which you can project on a screen and print in a bulletin and newsletter for the congregation:
ITEMS TO GATHER W/ THE CONGREGATION FOR A WELCOME HOME BASKET (OR BIN)
Feel free to copy and paste into a church bulletin, projection slide, or email:
Toothbrush and paste
Small notebook, pen and planning calendar
Bag of new white socks
Clothing gift cards to Ross, TJ Max ($300 total)
Simple cell phone with prepaid minutes/plan
Gift card for something fun to do locally with kids (if he/she has kids)
A used car
Don’t try to fit this in the basket! Do not mention this to him/her ahead of time. But it can be a game-changer to have waiting in the wings for once your friend gets their driver’s license and insurance. Pray and ask around the congregation for a member with a used car they could tithe to this person. This is also an opportunity for someone with auto repair/maintenance skills in the congregation to come alongside our friend in tuning up the car together, spending time together.)
Go back to the quote by Jean Vanier above. Do you think it’s harder to offer that kind of relationship with your incarcerated friend—with intention, time, attention—than putting some money on his or her account?
Has money ever warped a relationship in your life? How might it have warped some relationships in your incarcerated friend’s life?
Has your person asked for financial favors? Do the two OPOP Money “Rules” at the top here (Relationship Not Resources, and Funds Only to Remove Barriers) make it easier to remind each other, and your person, the role of money in this endeavor?
Take a minute to think through getting the Roll the Stone Away evening event on the calendar, and ways to modify this important piece of the plan to your congregation.