AKRON, Ohio — Linda Davis remembers the hurt and disappointment in the eyes of a young woman who was told she couldn't visit her loved one in a correctional facility in Grafton, Ohio, because she had a hole in her jeans.
"She had driven two hours, only to be told that she couldn't visit. She had a young child with her," said Davis, who was at the facility visiting her son. "I felt bad for her and her loved one that she was trying to visit. How many people know that they can't visit a loved one who is incarcerated if you have a hole in your jeans?"
Davis and her husband, Edwin, are on a mission to help families navigate the rules and regulations of the criminal justice system and to give them support via LOOP (Loved Ones Of Prisoners) Family Ministry. The Clinton, Ohio, couple recently established the ministry as an outreach of Hartville Church of God, where they are members.
The Rev. Dr. Neil Davis, pastor of the Hartville church, said he was thrilled when the Davises (who are not related to him) approached him and his wife with the idea.
"I was 100 percent for it. My wife and I had talked about doing something like this years ago but didn't have the time," said the Rev. Davis, a nonpracticing chiropractor. "I was so happy when Linda and Ed had a burden for this ministry. The statistics show that one in every six people either have a loved one who is incarcerated or knows a loved one of someone who is incarcerated. There is no doubt that this is something that is needed."
LOOP was established to provide support and guidance for anyone affected by the incarceration of someone they love.
The ministry offers a monthly hourlong support meeting at which people can gather and share their concerns and experiences. The monthly meetings also serve as a place where people can get information about resources available to help them cope and to help their loved ones transition back into family and community life once they are released.
Another component of LOOP's mission: provide support and nurturing for children. Programming for children includes parties, field trips and rap sessions that are designed to be a safe place for them to talk.
"When someone you love is incarcerated, you feel like there is a void. Something is not complete," said Linda Davis, who serves as executive director of the ministry. "It's a very lonely place, filled with guilt and shame because of the stigma. We want to help people understand that they are not in this alone. We want to encourage them and share the love of God with them."
LOOP also aims to be a resource that provides information about the various correctional institutions in the state, including rules and regulations for visitations.
"Our plan is to develop a list of necessary information for each institution, so that people know what to expect and what to bring with them on a visit. They need to know they need a birth certificate or that if their license is expired by as little as two days, they won't get in," said Edwin Davis, a registered nurse at the Louis Stokes Veteran's Administration Medical Center in Cleveland.
Future plans for the ministry include obtaining grants to assist struggling families with expenses, like heating bills, transportation and assistance with employment.
"Many times the grandparents, or an aunt or uncle, are raising the children of the people who are incarcerated," Edwin Davis said. "It takes a community to stop the revolving door into the prisons.
"We can start by helping families deal with the devastation, pain, misery and shame of having a loved one locked up. That will better equip them to help their loved one who is incarcerated and provide the family support they need when they are released."
The Davises said that recidivism can be reduced by 25 percent if those re-entering society from prison have family support.
"We're not here to judge," said Linda Davis, who gave up a $40-per-hour job as a physician's assistant to voluntarily head the ministry. "We're not interested in why your loved one is incarcerated. We are here to accept people where they are and provide a safe, caring and supportive place to help them through the frustration, shame and confusion that comes with having someone you love in the criminal justice system."
The Davises hope to extend the reach of the ministry throughout Ohio and across the nation.
Information about the ministry is expected to eventually be found at www.loopfamilyministry.org. (The site is under construction.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services