Above is a photo of Underground Ministries cofounders Neaners and Chris taken in 2014, the day after Neaners was released--after seven years in prison--directly from solitary confinement. Neaners and his daughter then lived with Chris and his wife Rachel in their home for six months. It changed both their lives.
We believe this experience does not have to be unique.
So together, now, we focus on helping those we love in prison, in gangs, develop hope and individualized release plans leading up to their release dates.
We pick them up at the prison gate, celebrate them. We accompany them through the gauntlet of legal and social barriers that keep most returning citizens in a kind of civic underworld: no driver's license, crushing legal debt, felony record, barred from many legal employment and housing options. Most reluctantly embrace the underground lifestyle, defiant to a society that clearly does not want them, and so quickly reoffend and go back to prison.
But given a new network of support and open doors, many men we accompany can timidly step into a new life of fatherhood, legitimate employment, and community belonging that is entirely new to them.
We believe this is where the greatest potential for transformation lies--not only for gang members and prisoners to begin an entirely new life, but for the wider community of churches, employers, and families to learn anew how to love and share life with our neighbors we formerly relegated to ghettos and lockdown human landfills.
Re-Entry as Resurrection: "Stones" & "Layers"
Lazarus is our model, the patron saint of dead men whom Jesus loves and so raises from the realm of the dead.
Much jail and prison ministry sadly stops with the spiritual renewal of prisoners still trapped in prison. But Jesus doesn't leave the newly-awakened Lazarus still sealed in the tomb.
Jesus also calls the community to get involved: the heavy work of rolling away the "stones," the massive barrier between the living and the dead. Building webs of relationships in our communities, we together can handle things like legal debt down payments, transportation, childcare, employment connections and more.
And Jesus also tells the community to help "unbind" Lazarus--from all those death wrappings that protected him underground. And so the protective "layers" of anger, distrust, addiction, violence, gang mentality and identity masks are slowly removed in new experiences of healing relationship, second chances, and community belonging.
We also have been removing gang tattoos with partnering laser clinics for years.
Along with our reentry accompaniment of individuals, we are increasingly involved with city, county, state, and national organizing around this work.
Resurrection and reentry are holistic endeavors--both spiritual and socioeconomic, deeply personal and frustratingly practical. We need grants and grandmas and community gardens alike. It requires a balance of broad community organizing and delicate trauma counseling and care.
We believe this reduces recidivism, affects generational change as returning prisoners become healthy dads, and ultimately reintegrates--resurrects--our fragmented communities into a new wholeness.