This is the story of Chris Hoke who co-founded Underground Ministries in 2017 with a former gang member / prisoner who became a close friend and teacher. It started when someone told Chris that in Washington State there is roughly the same number of churches as there are prisoners. It had him thinking: What if every church wrote to, adopted, and received just one prisoner? We would empty the prison system, and every church would change.
We called the movement: One Parish, One Prisoner
One Parish, One Prisoner is a re-entry model that matches parishes with an incarcerated person for their mutual transformation and resurrection. Two-way trust is build via letter writing and prison visits. And when the time comes, this person will release to a waiting embrace of an entire parish community who already knows then and can assist with the many obstacles to re-entry.
- Underground Ministries currently has fifteen One Parish, One Prisoner churches including Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopalian and evangelical that are organized and trained across NW Washington State. They are all paired with one man or woman in a WA prison, building mutual relationships of trust and growth by exchanging letters, making prison visits, and building a local release plan together.
America leads the world in incarcerating its own people. Almost two and a half million human beings are locked away in mass social tombs, an overstuffed underground beneath our society. The Lazarus story is the story of the American church in the age of mass incarceration. These incarcerated men and women are not physically dead like Lazarus but they are cut off from loved ones, family and their children. Large geographic distances, dozens of thick walls, and expensive phone calls seal these men and women off from the land of the living. They are effectively dead to society.
Jesus raising Lazarus from the underground can be a blueprint for resurrection and prisoner reentry today. For starters, Jesus knows the name of the dead. He loves Lazarus. He weeps over his friend. That’s what motivates the miracle. This is where writing letters come in – they establish the relational power of knowing each other on both sides of the envelope. We can also participate in reentry resurrection today when we know the name of the incarcerated person and have established a relationship. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead by calling his name in much the same way that the letter relationship has changed the prisoner and the parish support group.
When the inmate gets out of prison he is still underground. They tend to go back to old friends, neighborhoods, addictions, illegal drug dealing, knowing they’ll get caught eventually. This is where the parish needs to help to move the massive stone which is the many societal barriers that we build against prison reentry. This can only be moved by the people of the parish group working together.
There is still another problem since the prisoner is still wrapped in many layers of protective cloth that wraps him up in darkness as a mummy. These wraps are layers of distrust, survival patterns, addictions, defenses that cover deep stories and wounds that have not healed. But Jesus tells the community to “unbind him.” And in gentle relationships, those many layers come off for all of us. Once in relationship, we start to see one another for who we really are. We heal.
One Parish, One Prisoner is the story of a church taking on as mentor one prisoner through building a relationship (raising from the dead) while in prison and then on release working together to move away the stone (caring and assisting for the physical wants and needs) and then removing the burial bandages (dealing with the trauma of daily life, family and community) to become a person with human dignity and a productive member of the community.
Contact: Underground Ministries – Joe Cotton (Joe.Cotton@seattlearch.org)