A program developed by a former pastor and gang expert, “Parents on Mission,” seeks to break the debilitating cycle of sin that so often rears its head in families affected by incarceration. According to the program’s developer, 70 percent of inmates are parents, and their children run an exceptionally high risk of repeating their parents’ mistakes.
“Parents on Mission” is currently being implemented in Colorado’s highest-security prison outside Canon City, Colorado. The preliminary results since the program’s initiation in 2016 are promising.
The program’s developer, Richard Ramos, has a lot of experience to back up his unique approach to helping inmates who are parents. Ramos has served as a correctional officer, Juvenile Hall instructor, high school counselor, director of a Latino youth and family teen center, and a senior pastor for 16 years.
What makes Ramos’ approach unique is the emphasis on teaching parents how to deal with their own behavior. Speaking to the Denver Post, Ramos calls it an “inside-out approach.” The six-lesson curriculum is designed to help parents forgive themselves, manage feelings of failure and build confidence. It’s an approach that has not gone untested. Ramos started teaching the lessons himself, then moved on to teaching trainers in churches and schools across the nation. In 2007, he published the six-lesson manual now being used in prisons in California and Colorado.
Ramos says the prison staff personnel he’s trained to use his curriculum have been “blown away” by the results of the program. “Inmate recidivism rates are getting better,” Ramos says—which is exactly the aim of the program.
Sitting through a lesson in Canon City, Colorado, Denver Post reporter Kirk Mitchell got a first-hand glimpse into the curriculum. He noted how the instructor, Tracy Swindler, got inmates talking about their own experiences growing up. The topic of the day’s lesson was on proper discipline measures. As the group of six inmates related the abusive measures their own parents took with them, it became very obvious the cycle of sin runs deep in their generational lines. And while it doesn’t take much to trace the thread of violence and abuse back through each inmate’s story, what you also see is their determination to see their children walk out a different path.
“I love her with a full heart. I don’t want my daughter to be in here,” inmate Charles Sachaeffer says, speaking of the four-year-old girl that is not his own, but whom he loves as if she were. All of the inmates expressed similar sentiments for their own children.
The desire for redemption runs deep in the human heart. Which is exactly why programs like “Parents on Mission” are so necessary and impacting. What I think makes the program helpful is the fact that it starts with the parents and their own needs for grace, forgiveness and healing before it asks them to look to the needs of their children. It’s similar to the concept of tending to the plank in your own eye before you try to remove the speck of dust in another’s that we read about in Matthew 7. In other words, these parents need to be moving toward health and gaining the skills to be healthy before they can help their children do the same.
Lord willing, the actions these inmates are taking to better themselves will result in better futures for their children.
What Ramos has done in developing this curriculum is certainly a lesson in patience and perseverance. All of the experience he gained, and his obvious love for broken people, have helped him in his ministry. A blog post on Ramos’ site points to the motivation behind his belief in the potential of every person—whether incarcerated or not—to live a life of purpose: “What is at the core of the essence of human beings is the fact that we were created in the image of God with purpose and meaning that plays a significant role, not only in our daily lives, but in the lives of others and in the history of all mankind.”
The fact that Ramos’ curriculum and the subsequent good it is doing didn’t develop overnight should inspire churches and leaders to do what they can with what they have. There are plenty of people in need of someone to care enough to tell them about Jesus or, like Ramos and Swindler are doing, teach them how to break the cycle of sin in their families by starting with their own behavior.
If you read this article and don’t feel your church has the capacity or the background to be able to do something like this, perhaps there is a ministry already established in your city or town that you could assist. The point is to do something—even if you are not leading the show.