We are in the middle of grant-writing season which, for those unfamiliar with the world of nonprofits, means looming deadlines and hours of answering detailed questions from potential funders who are essentially asking the same thing – why do we deserve their money? Grant writing is tedious, and when I asked Andrea what she would do if she won the lottery, she said “donate it all to HeartBound and never write a grant application ever again.” :)
Every grant largely starts out the same. Within the first couple paragraphs, you must state your organization’s mission. I’ve read our mission countless times. But today, while writing my own grant, I paused to reexamine what our mission really means and what we actually do. Our mission, as stated, is to “provide programs and resources to meet the needs of the prison community – incarcerated people, their families, and correctional staff – changing the culture from one of crime and incarceration to hope and restoration.” That sounds good, but we know without action, a mission statement is simply words. That got me thinking – how do we exemplify this mission? Why does HeartBound deserve the gifts and resources of others?
I opened a letter from a gentleman incarcerated at Walker State Prison who wrote: “Our attitude is the lens that we see the world through. I am in prison with a life sentence, and I tell people I am grateful for prison. It has helped me become the man God designed me to be.” I immediately knew the answer to my question.
We do what we do because we believe our best investment is in people and helping them become the men and women God designed them to be. Our work is dedicated to restoring dignity to the incarcerated, to show them Hope in a place that often feels hopeless, and to help them reconcile to their families, their faith, and their community. Chaplaincy, horticulture, art, a prison seminary education, fatherhood classes, and literacy programs are just a few of the ways we accomplish our mission.
What does it look like when this works? A former student wrote us, “Being locked down 24/7 with so much violence and uncertainty at the age of 17 really took a toll on every aspect of me. So, one could imagine why I looked forward to your classes. My favorite will always be when we built our own gingerbread houses. I will never forget how much joy that simple gingerbread house gave me. Even though that wasn’t the first I’ve ever built, it reminded me, though my childhood was rough, I used to be outside these stripes and fences. It reminded me that I’m a person, and to be more specific using your words, a person worthy of respect…. I know that I am just 1 out of a magnitude of people you have helped, loved, and inspired in your life. But that same help, love, and inspiration is a major reason why I am who I am today.”
Yes, there are people in prison so dangerous that they cannot be allowed to live amongst society. But there are other people, people like you and me, who have made mistakes and desperately need someone to show them that they are loved by God and by us. What happens when we show them God’s love? Here’s one example: Of the women who have been released after going through the HeartBound sponsored seminary program, 0% have re-offended, 0% have relapsed, 100% have reunited with their families, and 50% are continuing their education!
Mark Twain wrote that we often go on “underrating men of gold” and instead “glorify men of mica.” There are organizations that value mica, so to speak. Then there are organizations that value gold. HeartBound unequivocally believes that there are men and women behind bars that are gold. We are mining for gold. We are mining for God.