To help further craft their vision for criminal justice reform, Bishop T.D. Jakes and a Dallas County judge visited the Dallas County Jail last Wednesday to meet with inmates who say they want a second chance at life.
Going before a parole board, the inmates told Jakes and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins their stories, which included background on their childhoods, families, and addictions, as well as their plans for how to stay out of jail, their support systems and even their fears, hopes and dreams.
Among those stories was one 35-year-old inmate's concern that his criminal record will "scare off" employers and landlords, and his hopes to overcome the negative labels of "junkie" and "crackhead" that he has endured. Another inmate, a 50-year-old woman, is ashamed to allow her sons to visit her after being imprisoned more than eight times. Her latest conviction involved the sale of crystal meth. She hopes to see more programs in place that help ex-offenders stay on the straight-and-narrow after they get out of jail.
"No little boy, little girl starts their life saying 'I hope I grow up to be incarcerated,'" Jakes told The Dallas Morning News.
The pastor and judge hope to advance their efforts for criminal justice reform as well as reduce the jail population and provide support for ex-offenders who are trying to reintegrate into society.
Jakes has already created a re-entry program for ex-offenders through his Dallas megachurch, The Potter's House. The Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, or TORI, is a program that aims to reduce recidivism in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio through services that include employment, housing, family reunification, education, healthcare and spiritual guidance, states the church's website.
The Potter's House pastor plans to share the inmates' stories and struggles when he travels to Florida this spring to meet with "thousands of ministers."
That meeting will likely be Jakes' International Pastors & Leadership Conference Apr. 21-23 in Orlando, Florida, where the megachurch pastor and other speakers, experts and presenters will provide church leaders with resources and insight on how to fulfill their missions.
Bishop T.D. Jakes is the senior pastor of The Potter's House, a megachurch with more than 30,000 members. He speaks nationally and has become a resident expert on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network.