Such help is crucial. In a study of 30 states, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that within five years of release, 75 percent of inmates were rearrested. In South Carolina, 30 percent of released inmates return to prison within five years. But Jump Start reports less than 4 percent recidivism: 2,100 men and women have graduated from its 40-week program in prison over the last 10 years, and only 70 have returned to prison.
John Pate, the warden at Allendale Correctional Institution in Fairfax, S.C., where Jump Start is one of a slew of character-based programs, thinks the ministry’s success comes from offering inmates a future on both sides of the prison walls.
“A man has to have a purpose,” Pate says. “A man needs hope.”
ROMAN CANNADY DIDN’T always have hope.
Growing up in poverty with a single mom, Cannady turned early to the streets, amassing 11 felonies by the age of 16. He remembers a life of “getting high, partying, drinking, and getting all the women I could.”
That lifestyle eventually landed Cannady in prison, where he noticed something unusual in a rough unit filled with gangs: a small group of men who seemed happy. “I wanted that,” he says, “even though I didn’t want other people to know I wanted it.”
Cannady learned the men were part of Jump Start. The program offered Biblical teaching that held out the possibility of knowing God and living a meaningful life. That made sense to Cannady, who began attending: “I thought, ‘Why would I want to come out worse than when I came in?’”
Sadly, many inmates do.
This April at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, S.C., seven male inmates died violent deaths during an all-night, brutal prison riot. But in the same prison, another set of men meets each week to discuss how to kill their sins—by cultivating godly sorrow, pursuing Christ, and serving others.
Other lessons in the Jump Start curriculum include Biblical teaching on building healthy relationships, working hard, respecting authority, accepting responsibility, and learning how to serve other people.
Some prisoners get a chance to serve fellow inmates as small-group leaders: Jump Start staff and volunteers identify inmates with leadership potential and train them to lead discussion groups during the next 40-week study.
Cary Sanders—the inside program director and a former inmate who graduated from Jump Start—says that by the end of the 40 weeks, about 30 to 40 percent of the participants have dropped out. But for those who stay and finish well, another possibility awaits: help on the outside, if they need it.
After release, many inmates return home to family or friends. (Only about 20 percent of Jump Start participants go to the transitional housing after their release.)
Some have nowhere to go. Others don’t want to return to an environment where they might face temptation to go astray again.