SOUTH ABINGTON TWP. — Bacon, talking like a pirate and red squirrels all have at least one thing in common: each of these topics has a national day or week in September devoted to it.
But local couple Jamie and Julie Overholser hope to add something to this calendar that, to them, is much more meaningful: prison inmate awareness.
“I just figured, if there is a day for butterscotch pudding awareness, and talk like a pirate day, then why has no one ever created a day for prisoner awareness?” Julie Overholser said.
So she and her husband, who is the lead pastor at the newly re-located Crossroads Church in Clarks Summit, are doing just that.
Through their prison ministry Bound Together, they designated Monday, Sept. 19 as the first Prisoner Awareness Day and are working with the office of U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (PA-11) to put it on the national calendar.
Their challenge for each person who would like to get involved is to drive or ride by a local prison on that day and pray for the people who are incarcerated there, as well as their families on the outside. They are asking each person who does so to then visit the “Bound Together Prison Ministry” Facebook page and post about their involvement.
“We want to encourage people in our communities and our churches to drive by a prison, to not just see concrete and razor wire and steel, but to imagine the men and the women who live behind bars,” Julie Overholser said. “The moms and dads. The husbands. The wives. They’re somebody’s sons. They’re somebody’s daughters.”
The cause already gained both local and national attention, via interviews with three Christian radio stations: WRGN, Family Life Network and K-LOVE/Air1, and the partnership of several Christian churches in Pennsylvania, New York and Florida.
After the radio interviews aired, Bound Together was contacted by prison chaplains from Texas, Minnesota and Indianapolis, asking for more information.
“We’re just getting it off the ground this year,” Julie Overholser said. “We’re hoping to expand next year with even more awareness in local churches.”
When often asked why they want to reach out to people who are in prison, the Overholsers’ default response is, “Why not?”
“Ninety-five percent of inmates are eventually released back into our towns and cities,” Julie Overholser said. “Why would we not want to invest in their lives now, while they’re still incarcerated?”
She hopes during Prisoner Awareness Day, people will “resist the urge to judge,” and instead simply pray for the prisoners. Taking it yet a step further, she asks people to continue extending this non-judgmental attitude toward former inmates.
“I want to encourage people who have rental properties or who own businesses to hire these men and women when they are coming out of prison, to give them a second chance, to allow them to have housing,” she said. “Many are stuck in prison longer than they should have to be – even years longer – because they cannot find someone who’s willing to give them housing.”
The Overholsers formed Bound Together about three years ago, when seeking a way to reach out to a friend of theirs in prison. During the 2013 Christmas holiday season, they sent cards, books, WORDpictures (photography overlayed with inspirational sayings and Scripture verses) and a small monetary gift for their commissary accounts to 26 prisoners in NEPA. By the next Christmas, that number grew to 106. Last year, they included more than 200 inmates and they now have a presence in at least 25 local, state and federal prisons throughout 13 different states.
The idea for a National Prisoner Awareness day came out of an abundance of requests from the inmates for calendars, an item that is difficult to get through prison security, due to staples, spiral binding and size. Bound Together created its own publication for this purpose, titled “Wisdom, Discipline and Understanding.” It includes calendar pages, journal sheets, photography and faith-based articles. In the section for September, they designed a page which focuses on prisoner awareness.
This year, they would like to send even more copies of the calendar publication into the prisons, but they can’t do it without the community’s help, as the ministry is funded solely though donations. A gift of $10 through the non-profit organization will purchase one copy for a prisoner.
For information on how to donate or get involved, visit wordpictured.com.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.