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COLUMN

Effort to help ex-offenders a noble pursuit

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Learn more about ministry

Saturday, July 9, 2011 - 7:46 am

Some might call it ironic. But, really, it's closer to redemption.

What else would you call plans to turn a house most recently occupied by a mother convicted of killing her 2-year-old son in a particularly gruesome and bizarre way into a haven for men who have also done wrong, but – with God's help – want to do right?

“A lot of guys who get out of jail have no place to stay. Some go to the (Rescue) Mission, but you can only stay there so long. So a lot of them get into trouble again,” said Mick Lomont, chairman of Faith-Based Mentoring Ministries, which within 60 days hopes to convert the cluttered, worn old house at 1301 Wabash Ave. into a place newly released offenders can stay until they land a job.

Finding jobs for people leaving jail and prison was one of the reasons Lomont and others got together four years ago to create a program intended to meet not only the earthly needs of ex-offenders, but their spiritual needs as well. But it soon became apparent that even if work could be found – not easy for anybody in this economy – the search was even harder for ex-cons lacking a permanent address.

As Lomont said, the mission takes a few. The county's new Kelley House can take some who are dealing with mental illness and substance abuse. Offenders with homes can wear an electronic monitoring device, and shelters can take a few more. But Faith-Based Mentoring aims to be unique by providing not only housing but job assistance, life skills and spiritual support.

And so, as they toured the three-bedroom house Friday morning, Lomont and others were thinking not of past problems, but future opportunities.

The house is where police found 31-year-old Latisha Lawson, who last month was sentenced to 55 years in prison for killing her son, Jezaih King, during an “exorcism” in which she admitted giving the boy a mixture of olive oil and vinegar. Jezaih died elsewhere, police said, but Lawson had been allowed to stay on Wabash Avenue by Pastor Elisha Harris, whose Jubilee House Ministry operated a shelter for released prisoners there until moving to a larger house on Chestnut Street in 2006.

Jubilee House will continue to own and oversee the house on Wabash Avenue as it provides shelter for men working with Faith-Based Ministries. A house supervisor is being sought, and residents will probably be billed Jubilee's standard $50-a-week rate – even though Harris knows not everyone will be able to pay.

Harris got to know Lomont and other Faith-Based Mentoring participants through their mutual interest in ministry to offenders at the Allen County Jail.

Faith-Based Ministries Executive Tomi Cardin said the house should be able to accommodate as many as five men, many of whom will come through Community Corrections or from the state's Chain O' Lakes Correctional Facility near Albion.

Mudrack Tree Service has agreed to spruce up the grounds, Cardin said, while members of the Building Contractors Association may help with painting, remodeling and repairs. Donations will also be sought.

Once operational, the two transitional homes will cooperate in many ways, Harris and Cardin said. BCA spokesman John Brogan said organization members may even be able to offer jobs to some of the homes' residents.

“People who have been released need a place to live, but they also need structure, Bible study, help with substance abuse,” said Faith-Based board member Scott Cristensen, a chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital. “We'll try to get help from some of the area churches.”

“Our biggest donor is God,” added Harris, noting that the average stay is about 90 days.

I know it's easy to be cynical about efforts to help ex-offenders. Stories about people supposedly trying to “turn their lives around” being hurt or killed while doing something wrong have become almost a newsroom cliché.

But that very cynicism only makes serious efforts to help ex-offenders all the more noble – and important. As Harris noted, the Indiana Department of Correction spends about $635 million annually to incarcerate about 27,740 prisoners. If even a few of those can be helped to find housing, work and spiritual renewal, the inevitable disappointments won't seem quite so daunting.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel.
Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger @news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.