• Ministry helps ex-con women readjust to life

  • Things we take for granted, such as buying everyday items, planting flowers in the dirt, and holding our loved ones close, are the activities Kirsten missed most during seven and a half years behind bars.
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  • Things we take for granted, such as buying everyday items, planting flowers in the dirt, and holding our loved ones close, are the activities Kirsten missed most during seven and a half years behind bars.
    Released last April, she found it challenging acclimating to a life with choices, like which salad dressing to buy. Prison is about following the rules and keeping to oneself, away from those who make trouble for newcomers. The post-regimen transition takes more than mere time. It requires an inward change.
    It would be a while before Kirsten could stop thinking of herself as a number. Who was she now? Where did she fit in society as a former prisoner? How would she come to believe in hope and a future again?
    Chaplain Rachelle Benthin understands how tough the transition can be. Fourteen years ago, Rachelle was there.
    "I was in and out of jail and prison for everything from disorderly conduct, burglary, theft, forgery and assault to driving under the influence and with a suspended license. After 10 years of that lifestyle, I reached a point where I felt like an outcast, a used up human being."
    Today, she works with incarcerated women, helping them make the tough transition from prison and jail. Her passion is obvious in the effective work she and others accomplish through A Hope and a Future Prison & Jail Ministries. The nonprofit's mission "is to rebuild lives that have been shattered by addiction, unproductive lifestyles and the cycle of crime, while restoring broken dreams."
    To read her story, visit the group's website at www.hopeandafutureministries.com and click on the tabs labeled "About Us" and then "President & Founder." You'll read of a woman most of us would have written off as hopeless, and you'll see the astounding makeover a transformed life brings about, from mug shot to today.
    The Freedom House, a transitional house, is a large part of the success. It is voluntary, and potential residents go through an extensive application process and interview. A four-phase Christian "discipleship" structure helps women take the practical steps necessary to become healthy and productive. Rachelle worked for Medford Gospel Mission's Women's Shelter for 14 years, including nearly five years as associate director. When I spoke with her, the one thing she wanted to impress on people with loved ones caught in the web of drugs and crime is to never give up.
    "Lives can and do change," she says. "I had a mom and sisters that never gave up praying for me. As long as there's breath, there's hope."
    She breathes fresh hope into the lives of many through her multifaceted efforts, like a pen-pal program for people who are interested in mentoring an incarcerated woman, thereby helping her prepare for release. Or arranging for donations of new backpacks full of everything from shampoo to bus tokens to help them make a start.
    To help, contribute or learn more, email her at rachelle@hopeandafutureministries.com or call 541-601-3318. Rachelle and other mentors are able to meet with female inmates by request or referral.
    As for Kirsten, she lives at Freedom House and is rebuilding relationships with her family one step at a time. It's tough, but not impossible. She enrolled with Pacific Bible College to take the required courses for becoming a counselor, so she can pay it forward and clear the way for others with clouded dreams.
    I recently attended a shower for the women of Freedom House. It was like hundreds of other showers, with a spread of good eats and gift bags filled with clothing and household necessities. But as we sat, hushed and listening to Rachelle's and Kirsten's stories, it dawned on me that, with a few life tweaks, it could have been me in the cell.
    Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.
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