A Reflection on Maud Booth's legacy of Reentry Services by Roellen Sinkewich
About two years ago, I participated in a reentry fair at one of Ohio’s older state institutions. Many social service agencies presented about their respective role in the journey of citizens returning to their communities. I often represent Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana (VOAOHIN) at prison reentry events, personally meeting with inmates coming to one of our four halfway houses in the state. Often there are inmates in these groups assigned to one of our four geographical locations: Dayton, Cincinnati, Mansfield and Toledo. In this case, many of the gentlemen I spoke with had been incarcerated for more than ten years. Individuals returning to society often express many fears and concerns about returning home after feeling written-off by loved ones and society in general. Having done so many of these events, and meeting with imprisoned men and women regularly, I do not have a heightened concern for my wellbeing. My job is to help with the transition process for these individuals convicted of a host of various felonies. However, on this particular day, a few years ago, I became very aware of the impact I have on those we serve.
The Assistant Warden and Unit Manager knew of the faith-based mission of VOAOHIN. When I arrived at the prison, I was asked if I was a minister with VOA. I didn’t understand what this had to do with my presentation about transitioning to a halfway house. The AW asked if I would be willing to visit with an inmate who was causing daily disturbances. Without hesitation, I said sure! Then it became surreal. I was lead through several levels of security into an area that was reserved for solitary confinement. I was brought to a steel cell that had only a 2”x 4” speaker and viewing area. The inmate was screaming obscenities at the guards and throwing himself up against the door. I looked in and saw a man that didn’t even look 20 years old and was clearly distraught. I prayed for words, and let him know I wanted to speak with him because I knew he was upset. I was not there to lecture but to comfort him. He then spoke to me for about 20 minutes while I listened and prayed with him. The AW escorted me back to the prison entrance and said that was the calmest he had seen this man in weeks.
As I sat in my car, I realized the enormity of what had just transpired. My emotions overcame me.
I thought about how Maud Ballington’s work in the prisons allowed me this opportunity. I was blessed to be able to share the Gospel with a man I would never see again but will never forget.
When I entered the facility that day, I didn’t think about the ministry of VOA, but the prison officials did because God put it on their hearts. Maud’s legacy lives on through each of us who are given the opportunity to share a kind word or give a moment of comfort to struggling, incarcerated individuals. I thank God she allowed herself to be an instrument of love and hope to so many. Without Maud’s ministry, I would not have been given the chance to show love and hope to this man who needed it so much at that time in his life.
A History of Maud Booth & Reentry
Volunteers of America co-founder, Maud Booth, created the first halfway house in our country. As a national leader and pioneer in the American prison reform movement, she proudly served as an advocate for prisoners before the public. During her time working with prisoners and their families during and after their release, Maud knew what they needed was not scolding or criticism, it was a message of hope and support to help them change their lives for the better. Maud Booth dedicated her life to educating the public on the needs of this vulnerable population – a population she helped welcome back into society and urged others to forgive so they could forgive themselves.
We continue Maud's vision to serve this population that is generally looked-down upon by society. They are often viewed as criminals and outcasts, considered as people who cannot be rehabilitated and can no longer be a contributing member to society. This week is dedicated to raise awareness about the importance of reentry work and its impact on the lives of these offenders and the community as a whole.