Mercy & Justice Released and Restored partners with students from Wesleyan, Concordia

Released and Restored provides inmates and ex-offenders in Nebraska with the tools and support systems needed to learn how to live productive, moral, ethical and legal lives in our communities after their release from prison or jail.

“Our overarching goal is to bring the life-giving and transforming Good News of the Gospel to the ‘least of the least of these,’ prison and jail inmates,” says the Rev. Ruth Karlsson, the executive director and founder of Released and Restored. This is done by a variety of programs that are offered, including Life Skills/Re-entry Classes, Job Readiness Classes, Re-entry Support, worship services and pastoral counseling.
 
Released and Restored is engaging students at Nebraska Wesleyan University and Concordia University in learning about the issue of prisoner re-entry. “We provide several class lectures each semester, often bringing graduates of our programs along to speak as well,” Karlsson said. “Students are offered for credit service learning opportunities with us. Students also assist with program facilitation in the Lancaster County Jail or the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women. Their final papers, required by their various professors, reflect the enormous impact working with the women and men we are privileged to serve, has had on them.”
 
Kali Pearson, a student at Nebraska Wesleyan, interned with Released and Restored in 2018. She shares about her experience:
 
“I worked with Ruth and Angie at Released and Restored for about a year, two months as a service learning opportunity through Nebraska Wesleyan University and the rest of the time as their intern. Working with Released and Restored was truly an experience that changed my life.
 
“It was my first professional workplace experience so I learned a lot on ways to improve organization, a little about grant writing, and how to communicate professionally with people, whether that be donors or participants. I also learned many facilitating skills. I had the opportunity to help improve class documents and teach them in ways that worked the best for each class. Which in turn helped teach me how to see which way of communication may work best for a class or even just one person. The coursework itself taught me a lot as well. Through facilitating I learned what a secured credit card is, how to balance a checkbook and much more.
 
“But I think the biggest thing I learned while working with Released and Restored was how to better check my privilege and stereotypes. My privilege being raised in a middle-class white family. I have not had to struggle just to have a home or eat dinner so I cannot assume I know how it feels or how I would react in situations where comfort was not guaranteed. In addition to being more aware of my own privilege and how that affects the way I interact with people, many of my stereotypes were challenged. I have always viewed myself as someone who is very open and not judgmental but after my first, second, third and even fourth class in the county jail I found that I had unconscious biases challenged everyday by the participants and our interactions. I did not realize going into this internship that I had many unfounded assumptions about people who have been or are currently incarcerated. Or how those false assumptions, that many people have, are actively harming progress in our criminal justice system and facilities. I would highly recommend working with Released and Restored to everyone, even those who have already started to see flaws within our incarceration system and especially to those who do not.”

Released and Restored is one of the Great Plains Conference Mission Agencies. To support this ministry, you can write a check through your local church (indicate Conference Advance #713) or donate online at releasedandrestored.org.

— Andrea Paret, Peace with Justice coordinator

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