By Stef Ruhs – Horizon Opinion Writer
One day last summer I spent 30 minutes in the birthday card isle. When I started the M2 (Match 2) ministry program here at Hesston I had been prepared for many things, but not his one: What birthday card do you send to a person in prison? One featuring cuddly animals, or one with animals on a slide?
When I first started the program I didn’t know buying birthday cards would be on my list of tasks. I was just nervous. The only prisons I knew were from the movies, and I honestly did not want to meet any of the guys from “Shawshank Redemption,” “Dead Man Walking” or “The Green Mile.” The first time the iron gate closed behind me and my group was inside, the first thing I looked for was the panic button.
Looking back at that moment, I feel ridiculous. It turned out that the inmate my partner and I were matched with was just as nervous as we were.
“I was just anxious to meet new people,” he told me in one of his letters.
In the M2 program prisoners and volunteers go through an application process that matches them up. Students are often paired with another participant of the opposite sex. Then the two are matched with one inmate. The purpose is simple:
“Being in M2 we get more visits than what we usually would,” my M2 inmate explained.
During Christmas time the M2 program also sponsors a Christmas dinner for volunteers and inmates together. For the man I was matched with, those events mean a lot.
“Those special activities are good for us because it is a chance for the inmates to do something out of the norm.”
He wishes that there would be more interaction, more visits and more special events. Still, he said, “All around [M2] is a good program.”
Visiting people in prison can be really rewarding, not only for the prisoner who gets a break from the prison routine, but also for the visitor. Sam Kline, the warden at Hutchinson Correctional Facility, learned this as a college student, when he first began visiting prisons. Kline, who spoke about the program in chapel April 4 has worked in the system for 30 years.
Kline reported that the prison system in Kansas is working quite well. People that are supposed to stay in usually do and people that are released tend to stay out. The recidivism rate in Kansas is below 50 percent, compared to the national rate of 67 percent. An important factor for people after being released is whether or not they have support outside the prison. Programs like M2 or other tutoring programs help prisoners to be re-socialized. If the system works, prisoners learn that some rules need to be followed and that privilege is earned. The M2 program is such a privilege.
In the Bible Jesus calls us to visit people in prison. This is the perfect opportunity to do so. M2 is a commitment, but it is not more time consuming than one evening per month and maybe a letter now and then if you decide to write. Even if you are not a Christian, the experience you will gain from this program is invaluable. If you are interested in in the program and would like to volunteer next year, contact Todd Lehman.
And if one day you find yourself standing in the birthday card aisle, go with the animals on the slide. I have been told cuddly animals are indeed just too ridiculous for prison.