Every Thursday, you’ll find police officers and recently released inmates breaking bread together at First Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The lunches are part of a reentry initiative for ex-offenders called CLEAR (Coalition Leadership Education And Rehabilitation). They provide time for interaction between the released inmates (now called returning citizens) and the professionals who make it their goal to reduce recidivism rates.
One of the regulars is Hooper Parsley, who has been attending every week. Support and encouragement are what keep him coming back.
Officer Terry Dixon serves as a co-facilitator for the gathering. He described the traditional role of police officer as “‘find the bad guy and lock him up,’ not ‘help him get back out.’”
But in his role as co-facilitator, Dixon testified to his reliance on God: “I don’t have all the answers, but through Christ I do.”
Luiz Timmer met Dixon at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia, Mich.
“When you see ‘the law’ you think, ‘here it goes again,’” said Timmer, but he noticed that Dixon had a different vibe and worked to build relationships. Whenever they met, Dixon would always ask when Timmer was coming for the weekly CLEAR lunch.
During the meetings, participants share stories of success as well as frustration with the challenges of reentry from the previous week.
Will Horrice is a participant who was a member of Celebration Fellowship CRC (a congregation that operates inside the prison). He said, “We are sitting with law enforcement, the warden, a pastor. There is hope. You have to be in the right space with yourself.”
Participants also volunteer their time to go with Dixon to share their stories in presentations to students at a local alternative high school and to soon-to-be-released inmates at Bellamy Creek.
Of the returning citizens that have participated in the program, only 18 percent have returned to prison and only one of the 10 or so core members of the group has reoffended.
Timmer plans to begin a paralegal and criminal justice program in the near future. “It takes time to study and a sense of pride. Terry offers that, offers to give back in some way so you’re a part of something again, so you mean something.”
The lunches are hosted by Bates Place, a ministry of First CRC.