The prison system in America, while serving a purpose, is far from perfect. With little focus on helping incarcerated individuals transition out of prison, it is estimated that 50 percent will be incarcerated again.
A Waynesville family is working to change that by helping prisoners successfully transition into day-to-day life outside.
Glen Doepel began working as a volunteer at the Lebanon Correctional Institution in 1993.
“When I was younger, I was driven way from the church by good-intentioned people,” Glen said. “When I married my wife, she talked me into going on an Emmaus weekend and it was then that I found Jesus.”
That weekend, designed to help any Christian strengthen their spiritual life, inspired Glen to devote himself to helping others. His preconceived notions about prisons, however, had him skittish about working with inmates. “Within two weeks, I was working in the correctional institution,” Glen said. “Helping to introduce Christ to the prisoners. I knew that was my calling.”
Glen said he soon “fell in love” with the work he was doing and the “residents” of the prison. “We are called to help everybody,” he said. “Those that are incarcerated are part of that group.”
About three years ago, Glen’s son Grant, also of Waynesville, started working in the prison with his father. “He saw that the residents needed more help before they get released,” Glen said. “When they hit the streets, they don’t have much support.”
Since prison life is not about having a lot of opportunities for choice or decision making, Grant wanted to find a way to help inmates transition to the outside world again and to be successful doing it. He created the Four-Seven prison ministry, in conjunction with Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, to help change the lives of the incarcerated and those released from prison. The mission is to provide these individuals with tools and information necessary to be successful outside of prison walls.
Through faith-based support and guidance, the Doepel family, along with hundreds of local volunteers, is making a difference, not only in Lebanon but also now in Dayton and other parts of Ohio.
“It’s hard for us to understand on the outside,” Glen said. “When someone does something for you in prison, there is always an expectation. But we do it out of love.”
It came as no surprise to Glen when his son wanted to help in the prison once he became an adult. “Grant started going into the prison when he was about 24 and fell in love with it,” Glen said. “My youngest son will be going with us soon.”
Grant’s wife, Kyla (Doepel) has also been an integral part of the program since marrying into the family a few years ago.
“I was curious about it because I was studying psychology in college,” Kyla said. “I also have a connection because my biological mother was in and out of jail most of my life.”
Kyla’s first experience in the prison was helping in the kitchen while her husband and father-in-law ministered to the residents. “Grant had the idea that we could expand this and wanted to help both men and women,” she said. ” I can give a woman’s perspective and support them. We want them to know there are people that care about them.”
Not only does the Four-Seven team offer Crossroads church services inside the prisons, but it also offers courses that teaches skills ranging from public speaking to interviewing, to resume writing and managing finances. The goal is to individuals together for meaningful conversation and experiences.
The group has now expanded its work to include the Ohio Reformatory for Women (Marysville) and the Dayton Correctional Institution for Women. “We had about 60 women in our first class,” Kyla said. “It was extremely powerful hearing them opening up about issues they were facing.”
The Four-Seven also invites guests, like Brian F. Martin, the CEO of the Childhood Domestic Violence Association (New York), to speak the inmates.
“The Four-Seven is helping an often-ignored population and their work is critical to getting to the root of many of society’s problems,” Martin said. “If we can help make a positive change in the lives of men in a maximum security prison, we can do the same for anyone that experienced childhood adversities like domestic violence. It’s never too late or too early.”
Always in need of more volunteers, the Four-Seven group understands that not everyone is comfortable in prison environments. Kyla said that they also need letter writers and mentors. “It’s about humanizing these inmates and letting people know there is a soul inside these bodies,” she said. “If we aren’t willing to go in and help them, they are going to come out helpless.”
You can find more info on The Four-Seven at www.thefourseven.org and also www.crossroads.net/prisonministry.