In 1975, the Presbyterian Church voted to prepare a position paper which would set forth a Biblical theology of the nature and value of human life. In the early 1980’s, I was the pastor of the Shady Grove Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Our adult Sunday school class studied the paper, including a section on capital punishment. We invited leaders of a local prison ministry to speak to the clients about the topic. One member of our congregation felt called to start a ministry for people who had been incarcerated but had no place to go when they were released from prison. She began finding a place for a Dismas House in Memphis, where graduate students in social work from Memphis State University who would be willing to live with and mentor people leaving incarceration.
In the gospel of Luke, chapter 23:32-43, the story is told of the crucifixion of Jesus between two thieves. One of the thieves acknowledged that Jesus was innocent and asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom. The Bible does not give the name of that thief, but history records in other places his name to be Dismas.
One of the things that I liked best about Dismas House was the wrap-around services for each person leaving prison. I had the privilege to be the founding president of the Dismas House in Memphis, and was very glad to see that we did not have to invent anything to quickly began service to “the least of these” who had been in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). Everybody leaving incarceration needs support for most aspects of life in order to have the motivation and skills to stay out of trouble. Our goal was to make certain each person had someone on their team to help with their needs: medical, psychological, vocational, financial, social, educational, spiritual, food and housing, and activities of daily living. My slogan is: when the going gets rough, the tough recruit. At the Dismas house, we used that slogan in order to be prepared for any rough situations that might challenge the resilience of the residents. We recruited doctors and nurses, counselors, bookkeepers, teachers, chaplains, headhunters, donors, and MSW candidates who were interested in helping.
To find out more about Dismas Charities and how you might replicate a Dismas house in your area, go to: http://www.dismas.com/