Several nationwide prison ministries report the current inmate crisis in America—that 1 in every 99 adults is currently incarcerated and that the recidivism rate is over 70 percent. But another aspect of this crisis is largely overlooked: the children. Today 2.2 million kids under age 18 have a parent in prison, and those children are seven times more likely than their peers to end up in jail.
Local churches are finding among these kids a new ministry field. And their new partner is AWANA Clubs International. A program called Returning Hearts rewards well-behaved fathers in maximum-security prisons with opportunity to restore relationships with their children. The annual event is a carnival of sorts for dads and their kids, held on the prison grounds.
In 2007, the Returning Hearts event at Louisiana State Penitentiary attracted over 600 volunteers from churches in 21 states. One of them was Phil Zilinksi from Fox Valley Baptist Church in Dundee, Illinois. "As a pastor it has been refreshing ...1