Local prison ministry thanks its supporters

Criminal justice reform event held in?Warren

WARREN — Seventeen years ago, Martha Conyer-Allen and the Rev. Walter Allen started Free Indeed Prison Ministries as a way to help those incarcerated get a second chance.

The nonprofit, faith-based organization held a First Step Act Criminal Justice Reform symposium where it recognized and thanked those for their help over the years to make a difference in the lives of those leaving prison and returning to society.

Conyer-Allen and Allen said they are hoping they can bring more support for a federal law recently put into place, called The First Step Act.

“A lot of people will be coming out of prison because of this law and they’re not prepared and the community is not prepared,” Conyer-Allen said.

Mahoning County Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick, who was the keynote speaker at the event at Aulizo’s Banquet Center, said the law is designed to reduce prison populations and provide alternatives to incarceration.

Dellick said the law helps in reduction of sentences for good time served through programs like counseling and drug treatment. Also, it gives federal judges the ability to craft sentences based on someone’s needs.

“Federal judges have the discretion now to say this person’s problem is drug addiction. You’re not going to cure drug addiction in prison,” Dellick said.

She said The First Step Act will help provide alternatives to incarceration and help reduce the disproportionate amount of minorities, including African Americans and Native Americans, in prison by offering alternatives than just prison, such as drug treatment, counseling, rehab, education, training and recovery programs.

Dellick said it is important to help people by teaching them skills to be able to work in society. Conyer-Allen said Free Indeed Prison Ministries wants the public to understand the importance of preparing inmates to transition back into society.

Allen, who himself spent time in prison in Alabama, said he came to the Warren area 20 years ago and was ordained as a pastor.

“My wife and I have gone to the prisons and minister to the men. We address their spiritual needs and their practical needs. We feel a person who has been helped spiritually and has gone through the system and is being released from prison can become a citizen of the community,” he said.

Allen said it is important for communities to be prepared for the release of prisoners.

Warren resident and city Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, along with Pastor Willie Patterson, were recognized for their support of the organization.

“It is an honor to be recognized by Free Indeed Ministries. What they started 17 years ago with a prison ministry and re-entry program was a new concept for the Mahoning Valley,” Saffold said.

Saffold, a board member at Free Indeed Prison Ministries, started the Mahoning Valley Re-Entry Initiative Coalition in 2015, which has collaborated with other agencies.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people being released from prison. We need to have programs in place so they can become re-entry citizens. They have committed the crime and done the time and now deserve a second chance. Free Indeed Prison Ministries is giving them that chance “ said Saffold, who worked at a prison in Cleveland as an educator.