NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Data from the sentencing project shows there are over 25,000 people in prison and jail in Tennessee. Statistics show 45 percent of them will likely return.
To try and keep those numbers down, the Department of Correction has started a special volunteer program.
TDOC asked us not to use this person’s real name, so he’ll be going by the name “Ron.” Ron is a prisoner, and he’ll be that way for a long time.
“It’s been a long journey, and it’s still continuing. But it’s beautiful though. I wish I would have had this (the Bible) out there,” Ron said. “I had the opportunity to have it out there, to trust God, to serve God. But, sometimes God’s got to get you away from all of the distraction.”
In Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, lots of men change, partially because of the volunteers.
“They’re convicts. You can’t con a convict,” said Rudy Kalis with Men of Valor. “They could read your heart, they could read your mind, they can tell if you’re phony. So, you better be real about what you believe.”
Kalis has been volunteering at the prison for about half a decade. He used to be a sports reporter before retiring and finding what he says he was put here to do.
Kalis talked to a former intern with Men of Valor, a prison ministry organization, and decided to make a visit with him.
“The minute I walked in, I said this is my world,” Kalis said. “It started one day, then two days, then they asked to go into the tougher units. I wound up going into Death Row. Now, it’s four days a week, and it’s my whole life.”
“Rudy allows us to open up, to be man, to talk about our faults. And he sets the platform every week by talking about his week,” Ron said.
“I think they help me more than I help them,” Kalis said.
Though the prisoners may disagree with Kalis.
Volunteers bring one key thing: hope.
“Without hope, we’ll be like wild animals in here, just in here killing each other. But a volunteer coming in, cultivating us, raising us, teaching us, it gives us hope,” Ron said. “It gives me the strength to go back to my cell each night and say, ‘You know what, I can make it another day,’ because I have a lot of time.”
There are over a thousand volunteers in our state, but the TDOC says it always needs more. There are plenty of ways to volunteer, but sometimes it boils down to simply being present.
“Just being a friend, being a confidant, someone they can talk to and share, and someone they can learn from,” said David Dodson with TDOC. “These volunteers are great models, good role models, and that’s what these folks need.”