The Way Home: A path to freedom.

The Way Home, Inc.
P.O. Box 1103
Georgetown, DE 19947

Phone: 302-856-9870
Fax: 302-856-9871

Coast Press, July 24, 2007

A prison ministry of compassion

by Betty Fleming, Friends & Neighbors

Breaking into prison is not something you hear much about. But it’s been going on at the Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown since 1998. They call themselves “The Breaking Into Prison Bible Study” group and they come monthly to meet with prisoners and discuss their faith. They often come away enriched and inspired by the prisoners’ faith, even among those who will never be released again. St. Martha’s Episcopal Church of Bethany Beach was the church that started this prison ministry and outreach Bible study. An outgrowth of the Bible study is the program known as “The Way Home” which seeks to provide support to prisoners as they get ready for release and after release. The program has been steadily growing and now has three staff members, their own offices in Georgetown and a Millsboro transitional housing unit, called “The House of Ruth,” provided by the Christian Storehouse. They are also working on establishing another transitional housing unit in the Ellendale area.

“We follow our baptismal promise — to seek and serve Christ in all others,” said Barbara DelMastro, executive director of The Way Home. “It’s a ministry of forgiveness, reconciliation and second chances.”

DelMastro and her co-workers Tony Neal, senior case manager and training and outreach coordinator, and Lorrie Runner, case manager and administrative assistant, all focus on the needs of prisoners. The Rev. Max Wolf, rector of All Saints’ Church in Rehoboth Beach and St. George’s Chapel in Harbeson, has been chairman of The Way Home board for some time and leads the monthly Bible study group at the prison. “He’s good,” DelMastro said, “and we don’t want to let him go!”

DelMastro goes to the prison twice a month to interview prisoners who might be candidates for The Way Home. She goes there, too, on other occasions such as when she conducts a pre-release class.

The Way Home staff meet prisoners at the prison gate when they are released with clothing and other immediate necessities. They help the ex-prisoners find housing if needed and take them to social services to see if they are eligible for support services. Sometimes, it’s possible to get a Social Security card. Help is given in finding a job, taking training, etc.

“Right now, at the House of Ruth, we have a 24 year-old man who has lost many of his friends due to drugs and street violence,” DelMastro said. “He’s working on his GED. If he can complete this, he will be the first one in his family to have a high school certificate or diploma.”

This young man has a job (which is required to live in transitional housing) and is taking a driving test to get his first license. DelMastro says, “He wants to get into Sussex Tech and study electronics.”

A male mentor spends each night at the House of Ruth. “Right now, we have four mentors and we could use more, many more,” DelMastro said. “We don’t expect them to solve problems, just be a presence in the house at night.”

The other transitional housing resident at the moment is a 40-year-old man, who is working and has taken on the responsibility of keeping the grass mowed there and tending to the yard. Asked what his feelings were about The Way Home, he said, “It’s a blessing to me.”

With help from mentors, this man was able to buy a lawn mower, paying for it in installments. Also, a donated car was made available.

“We provide residents with the initial food supply from the Christian Storehouse or the Cape Henlopen Food Basket,” DelMastro said. “Then, the residents start paying small program fees to help with utilities, etc. and getting food on their own.”

“They tell me that it costs $30,000 a year to keep a prisoner in prison,” DelMastro said. “In The Way Home, we estimate that it costs $4,300 a year to provide care for an ex-prisoner.” This goes towards salaries, office expenses, phone, gas, repairs and utilities. “We currently have a caseload of 53 people,” DelMastro said.

“St. Martha’s Church is sponsoring one prisoner a year,” DelMastro said. “If we could get other churches to do the same, it would mean a lot.”

Currently, a University of Delaware study has shown, in a preliminary report, that fewer prisoners return to prison if they are in The Way Home program than the average number of prisoners who are not part of the program.

“The prison counselors all know about us now so we get a lot of referrals,” DelMastro said. “They assigned a staff person to do liaison with us.”

“Meetings have been held with the Wilmington Hope Commission, funded by United Way,” DelMastro said. “They see us as a model.” A group in Dover is also looking into using The Way Home as a model for prisoners.

“We figure we help 1,600 prisoners a year,” DelMastro said. “We need support to do that.” She mentioned some of their needs:

Quarterly Way Home gatherings are held at Georgetown Presbyterian Church for fellowship, information sharing, and support. All are welcome. For more information on these pot luck gatherings or other matters, call The Way Home office at (302) 856-9870.

Reprinted from the Coast Press, Salisbury, Maryland.

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