Hospitality House members still focused on goal

Published 12:40 am Sunday, December 5, 1999

By By Lori Dann
Their mission has spanned two years with relatively little progress. But Hospitality House members aren't about to give up on their goal.
The goal is to provide a home where family members of prisoners at Holman and Fountain prisons can stay when they visit the Atmore area facilities.
Carolyn Morris founded the Christian-based program after reading a book by Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson. In his book, Colson related stories of the "Shadow People," relatives of inmates who often travel many miles and are forced to sleep in their cars on the sides or roads or find other place to stay until their visiting hours begin.
The group has expressed its desire to various local agencies including the Escambia County Commission, the Atmore City Council and U.S. Representatives Skippy White of District 93 and Jimmy Warren of District 64.
"It's been a very slow process," Morris said, "There's been a lot of red tape we've had to work through. But we believe we're getting closer."
The group has a site it is interested in n the old food stamp office on Presley St n and is in negotiations to purchase it. When that happens, Morris hopes things will begin moving quicker.
Morris stresses that the facility will be a home, not a motel, and prisoners will not be allowed to visit the facility. All visitations will take place at the prison. There will be strict rules including set rules against loud music and late hours.
Family members will have private rooms, but there will also be a central gathering room for meals and fellowship. There will be a house manager and numerous volunteers which the board hopes to get from local church groups.
"The house will be available to anyone of any faith who has someone to visit in the prisons," Morris said. "We won't miss an opportunity to show them the love of the Lord, however."
The house is based on similar projects in Tennessee, Florida and Texas. The Reconciliation House in Nashville has been in operation for more than 10 years. When members visited it a year ago, they were very impressed and encouraged about the possibility of starting a pilot program in Alabama.
"Last year they ministered to over 400 families in Nashville," Morris said. "We believe there is a major need in our community here as well."
In its talks with local officials, the group has stressed studies which have shown that having a facility for family members not only helps the family but also helps the inmate's rehabilitation . They cited the following statistics:
* A California study recently found that only half of the inmates who received no contact during their term were able to complete their first year on parole without being arrested again. Seventy percent of those with three visitors were not arrested during that same period. The study also found "loners" to be six times more likely to wind up back in prison during the first year. Of those with three or more visitors, only 2 percent returned to prison."
* In a Pennsylvania Correctional System study, 84 percent of long-term offenders reported that maintenance of family contact was the most important problem distinguishing long-term from short-term offenders.
* A Nebraska Department of Correctional Services survey found that more than 81 percent of married prisoners were non-repeat offenders. Just over 18 percent were repeat offenders, as opposed to more than 30 percent of non-married prisoners.
Morris said the biggest obstacles for those family members wishing to visit relatives in prison is traveling distance and a lack of resources which makes it impossible to stay in a hotel.
The Hospitality House will help those family members make more frequent visits, which will hopefully decrease the recidivism rate among offenders. That, in turn, could save taxpayers money.
In order to make the house a reality, however, the group needs to raise more funds.
Morris remains optimistic that her dream will become a reality.
"I know the Lord will open the doors for us and this will happen," she said. "He's the one who gave us the vision."
For more information about volunteering or contributing to Hospitality House, contact any board officer: President Carolyn Morris, Vice President Eldred Pritchett, Treasurer Mary Sanders and Secretary Blanche Cunningham.

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