Reentry Conference at SkyRose Ranch

The last weekend of April, we joined all of our prison ministry partners at SkyRose Ranch. At this retreat, we learned that Serving California has 1,522 prison inmates who have completed or started TUMI, which is a four-year moral rehabilitation/Christian leadership program and theology curriculum. One of our duties, in coming alongside TUMI students who are up for parole, is to assist them in court. Once they’ve paroled, we reunite TUMI students with family or cover the costs for them to live in a Christian sober living facility for a year. In this situation, they are able to save money, get a job and successfully transition into life outside of prison.

The state recidivism rate is somewhere between 55-75% whereas Serving California’s TUMI program recidivism rate is under 6%! Our partners at Prison Fellowship, World Impact and our 9 entry home staff people were all incredibly encouraged to gather and share about the progress our programs have made over the last several years. We are committed to enrolling 3% of all prisoners in California into TUMI. We believe we can change the culture of our prisons, our inner cities and our state of California through this program.

Dr. Don Davis, TUMI founder and Serving California board member, shared with us in our evening sessions, noting that, often, God uses the least of us to do His work. He encouraged us to see people for how they can be, not as they currently are. In the Bible, Moses was a murderer. King David initially passed over because he was a shepherd and young. Mary was a 14-year-old girl in a patriarchal society who had no money or education. Paul was a tyrant and murderer of all Christians. Hearing these stories and the stories of our TUMI students encourages me greatly that God is moving and doing big things in California.

- Vaughn Spethmann

This was the first chance that I had to speak to our partners about the work that I have been doing for Serving California and an excellent opportunity to reflect on that work.  The most memorable takeaway for me was a reminder from Dr. Don Davis not to evaluate a person as they are, but as what they can be. 

With new state data we are able to accurately measure the recidivism rate of our students, the rate at which they return to incarceration after being released.  While a small number of our students have returned to prison, we do not “write them off” as failures.  In reporting recidivism statistics, I adopted the CDCR practice of labeling those who have not returned to incarceration within the observation period as being successful.  It was not until the middle of my presentation to our partner organizations that I fully realized this label implied that those who had been re-incarcerated were unsuccessful.  Since these “unsuccessful” individuals have already been re-incarcerated, their actions going forward will have no effect on our recidivism rate.  Another return to jail or prison will not increase the observed recidivism rate nor will a future life free of crime benefit the rate. 

Despite this, our recidivists are not cast aside but are welcomed back with open arms and without judgment.  Our reentry team focuses on these individuals; our goal is not to judge but to offer a chance at restoration.  These men and women still have the opportunity to find a better path, and to even go on to become our biggest success stories.  

- Kevin Drenth