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National Prison Ministry Summit to hear ex-inmates, officials

By Val Hymes
ENS 042204-1
4/22/2004
[Episcopal News Service]  A former inmate who moved hundreds of thousands of people with his daily meditations for Forward Day By Day will lead meditations at the national Episcopal Prison Ministry Conference April 29-May 1 in Texas.

The Conference, “Engage in God’s Mission Serving All His People,” will be held at the Camp Allen Conference Center of the Diocese of Texas in Navasota, Texas. Prison officials, lay and clergy prison ministers, lobbyists for reform and transformed ex-offenders are featured speakers.

Bo Don Cox, who spent nearly 18 years in an Oklahoma prison and was twice denied parole, won a Society of Professional Journalists award for an essay in the prison magazine in the early 1990s. He then authored meditations for Forward Movement Publications in 1995, 1998, 2001 and 2002. Overwhelming response to the meditations led to the publication of a quarterly journal, Free Spirit, with his wife, Debra. He also wrote Lenten meditations this year entitled Transition, and a book, God is Not in the Thesaurus, in 1999 while he was still in prison.

He was released in June 2003, and lives with Debra in Norman, Oklahoma, where he works as a recreational therapist for a drug and alcohol treatment center. He continues to write about his “journey.”

The conference hosts are the Rt. Rev. Rayford High, suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Texas, and the Rev. Jackie Means, director of prison ministry for the Episcopal Church.

Speakers include John Johnson IV of the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations; Prison Chaplain Vance Drum, secretary of the American Correctional Chaplains’ Association; Christine Melton Crain, chair of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, and Joan Gibson Burnham, executive director of Texas Inmate Families Association (TIFA).

Others are Gary Johnson, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; Linda Schroeder, founder and director of the Missouri-based Congregation/Offender Partnership Enterprise (COPE) inside prisons; and Boone Vastine, attorney and founder of Initiatives for America’s Youth (IAY) and vice-chair of Juvenile Justice Ministries of Texas.

The Rev. Carmen Guerrero, national Jubilee ministries officer for the Episcopal Church, will lead discussion on changing public policy.

Plenary sessions will focus on four themes: Working and Volunteering Inside; Breaking the Cycle--Keeping Kids; Aftercare and Reentry Programs; and Serving Families of Prisoners.

Other ministries to be highlighted include: Exodus Ministries, Kairos, ABEL, Angel Tree, Disciples of Christ in Community (DOCC), Storybook programs, Bridges to Life, the Amachi Program and camps for children of inmates, The “Welcome Back” Connection, Adopt a Family, One Church, One Offender, volunteer chaplain training, and ministering to the correctional staff.

Ex-offenders will testify about transformations inside prison walls.

For information, contact Edwin Davis, 936-291-3153, esalpc@yahoo.com, or Val Hymes, 301-261-4020, valhymes@aol.com.