Engage: Incarceration

Taking time out of a busy schedule, our dear friend from Prison Ministries, Darrin Krauss, stopped by to chat with us about the ministry, and how the Church in King County can serve incarcerated men and women. Darrin acts as Director of Prison Ministries at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and has served at that position over the past decade. Having felt the call to prison ministries in the late 1990s, Darrin began serving incarcerated populations in Woodinville and Monroe and by God’s providence, he began working for the Mission, serving the incarcerated throughout King County with his teammates Hulet Gates III, Christopher Thomas and is now joined by intern Jesse Thomas from Serve Seattle.

After 35 years of service, Prison Ministries has served at facilities in our region and began helping the incarcerated with a Bible study correspondence course up until the early 2000s. Since then, the program has shifted its focus regarding discipleship and re-entry services, which has led to the growth of this department and the specialization of roles within Prison Ministries at the Mission.

The newest iteration of Prison Ministries currently focuses its discipleship efforts within the context of life skills courses, while also focusing a lot of energy towards finding support mechanisms for individuals who are re-entering society at large. Overseeing the program along with Chris Thomas, the program necessitated a specific position for transitional resources, which Hulet Gates spends a great deal of his time on. The team has a substantial amount of individuals and families to care for, especially with facilities within the County that are looking to the Mission to provide more support and life skills courses. Darrin spends a lot of his time at the Regional Justice Center, (RJC), and the Community Center of Alternative Programs, (CCAP), and the team spends time in Monroe, Downtown Seattle, SCORE in Kent, and Hulet spends specific time at the Juvenile Justice Center.

In light of the nature and volume of responsibilities Prison Ministries has, and the requests for more volunteers—there is a clear need for congregations to get involved out of obedience to Christ and from a love for both the incarcerated and those who serve them at the Mission. Darrin was very clear about the opportunities there are to serve the many image bearers of God, who need Gospel love and discipleship in the context of incarceration and re-entry. The opportunities range from helping with life skills courses to letter writing.

Currently, the Prison Ministries offers 19 life skills courses between the RJC and CCAP, and there is a growing need for congregations to help with these classes, whether by sitting in on a class and/or facilitating one directly. While the latter option sounds daunting, Darrin and the team help coach, provide curriculum materials, and the themes and foci of each course can be tailored to the interests, and gifts of each volunteer instructor. Darrin mentioned that each class is grounded in the Bible, but in one case a volunteer loved American History and weaved biblical understanding , U.S. history and practical life skills to bless the students. The key, according to Darrin, is relationship building, which is the heart of discipleship from the Christian perspective.

Part of relationship building is taking time to do small things: men and women who are incarcerated love to receive mail, and birthday cards are something often overlooked—but so appreciated when individuals don’t receive letters of support on a regular basis. Additionally, Darrin shared that 170 gifts were supplied for Christmas through the Jessie Tree program, but that they could use support from churches to provide gifts for birthdays. Finally, keeping with the theme of relationship building, Darrin mentioned that consistent, small acts can go a long way, such as window visitations and helping with worship services in facilities around the County.

What was clear from our time with Darrin and Jesse was that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Let’s continue to give thanks and pray for the Lord’s work through our friends at Prison Ministries, but also pray for hearts and hands willing to “remember those in prison”, (Hebrews 13:3).

-Jason Davison

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