A Support Group is a ministry for people who have an incarcerated family member or close friend. The one being charged with the crime is never the only one who suffers during this time. A support group can help with practical, as well as spiritual and emotional issues.
Support should actually begin at the time the inmate is charged with a crime and begins the court procedure. If the person is out on bond, the family members might want to wait until the inmate is convicted and actually begins serving the sentence. However, if the inmate remains in jail and does not make bond, the family might want to start or join a group in their area right away.
The Support Group can chose their own leaders or rotate the leader of the meetings as often as necessary to avoid leader burnout. They could have their meeting as often as the group decides, but it should be on a regular schedule so as not to lose the effectiveness of the group. Many families are overwhelmed when a family member or friend is first incarcerated, then later it does not seem to be as serious. If this is the case in your group, you will have a large turnover of members. If possible, the group should still keep in touch with the longer-term members. This actually might draw them back into the meetings. Their experience and survival skills would be of great help and encouragement to the newer families who are still struggling to cope and wondering how they will get through.
Rehoboth Jail & Prison Ministry would be happy to help with beginning such a Support Group. After it is established, we would be glad to visit periodically or help with other forms of assistance if a special need arises.
There are some important things to remember about facilitating a support group:
Be sure to allow everyone to vent their suffering in a safe and soothing manner.
Be sure you make time enough during the meeting for everyone to be heard.
Sometimes letting someone different run the meeting each time might help people open up better, or the group may decide to have one leader for a period of time. Each group can be managed within the group by those members who are participating.
The schedule of the meeting is of the utmost importance. If you set it for once a month, remain faithful to that day. If it is twice a month or once a week, do not get in a habit of canceling a meeting for trivial things. If the group is important enough to the ones who have started it, it should remain important enough to keep the scheduled meetings.
Keep a local pastor as a mentor to the group. If Rehoboth Jail & Prison Ministry can be of any help from time-to-time, we would be happy to do so. It is our desire to have the group look to God for guidance. Having a local pastor involved in case he is needed to counsel would be helpful. Also, being a member of a local church would be very helpful.
The support group will very likely include mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, husbands, and wives; therefore it is important to be mindful of the different ages involved. Since this support group is a family group, everyone should be included in the meeting, from children to grandparents.
The meeting should begin with a prayer and Scripture reading, and perhaps a short time of sharing how the week has been for some who might like to share.
Sharing the letters from those incarcerated with the group can help the group become closer and show the various ways people handle incarceration.
If you have a loved one or close friend who is incarcerated, being a pen pal to him or her is a true blessing. There is nothing like going to mail call and hearing your name. Phone calls are so expensive within the prison system, because the only way you can hear from this person is for them to call you collect. So letters are a lot more economical while still allowing you to keep in touch. If your family member or friend is transferred, this ministry can help put you in touch with the right website to get all the information needed to find out about the new institution. The DOC has a website and a phone number to keep track of the inmates, including when they will be released, and other important matters that might change between one institution to another.
Rehoboth Jail & Prison Ministry would be glad to help you start a Support Group through your local church that has access to helpful information like this. Just give us a call!