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It is 6 P.M. on a sunny Saturday, and the men of Onesimus House, a transitional home for ex-offenders, look forward to an evening of fellowship and food.

The group leader looks around at the 20 or so people now living at this home in rural Chesapeake, Virginia. Surprised, he notices three familiar T-shirts. Those shirts were his—until he donated them recently to the ministry's clothes closet. Nothing sits still for very long. Everything is in transition here. Worn-out clothes, and people, get a dream-come-true second chance at life.

Each week, at least one bus from nearby Powhatan Correctional Center pulls up to the front door of Onesimus House—named after the repentant slave chronicled in the epistle to Philemon. The bus's arrival means Powhatan is discharging more inmates to this aftercare program. In a typical week, about 100 inmates seek admission to Onesimus, looking for more help than the $25 cash the state provides following release.

The ones whom Onesimus welcomes are the fortunate few. Onesimus staff and volunteers feed, clothe, and shelter these ex-offenders. More importantly, they give them a fighting opportunity to beat the odds for going back to prison.

Epidemic of Recidivism

Christians need to study more carefully the chapter in the handbook of outreach on prison ministry and aftercare. Prisons are a huge "growth industry" in 21st-century America.

Some 2.2 million people (one in every 136 U.S. residents) are doing time in prison, according to FBI statistics. Add to that number another 4 million or more on probation, parole, or awaiting trial in local jails. This past year, prison populations grew 4.7 percent—the largest annual growth spurt in nearly ten years.

This up-trend in incarceration has been ...

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September 2007

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