SASKATOON — When a person goes to jail, several things happen: they lose their privacy, their dignity, their job, their home and, in many cases, their family and friends. And when that person serves their time and gets out of jail, they get back some of their freedom, but many of the things and people they lost do not return.
The Micah Mission is an ecumenical ministry in Saskatoon that was born out of the recognition that when a person who is just out of prison tries to reintegrate into society, if they have no friends or family, no home, and no job, there is a high statistical chance that they will reoffend.
Staff and volunteers of Micah offer their time to sit with ex-offenders and give them a healthy friendship, and that friendship might be the only thing that keeps a person from re-offending.
On Jan. 27 the board and staff of the Micah Mission organized a volunteer appreciation event for their 64 volunteers and for many of the men who benefit from the various offerings of their ministry.
2017 was a difficult year for Micah. After several years as the Community Reintegration chaplain, Peter Oliver was let go for financial reasons. There has since been a financial turnaround, with funding from the federal government through the Ministry of Public Safety, announced last May by Ralph Goodale under the National Crime Prevention Strategy. This has allowed Micah to hire a part-time person, Adrianna Appleton, to work in co-ordinating Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSAs) in the region.
CoSAs are small gatherings of volunteers along with a person who has recently been released from prison. The volunteers are not counsellors or therapists. They are simply people who gather to talk and listen. This reflects the Micah Mission motto: “Tough on crime, one friendship at a time.”
The effectiveness of the CoSA model in lowering recidivism has been studied often, but not at a large enough level to produce reliable statistics. One 2014 study by Dr. Kathryn J. Fox of the University of Vermont reported that only one in 21 core members reoffended during their participation with a CoSA which is a much lower rate than those who did not seek the support of a CoSA.
Dave Feick, executive director of the Micah Mission, spoke during the gathering, bidding farewell to Colleen Rickard who was a volunteer who then became a staff person and served as bookkeeper.
Many volunteers were highlighted and remembered, including Abram J. Hiebert and the late Keith Lapsley, as well as Edna Zacharias.
Appleton shared some statistics about the volunteers: “In the last year, 64 volunteers have donated 5,334 hours. The time you give as an advocate, a compassionate listener, in guidance, career planning and housing support could easily be valued at $133,350,” she said.
“This list does not begin to describe everything our volunteers do,” she continued. “In this room we have a collection of individuals with a high capacity for empathy, a strong sense of compassion, and a commitment to helping others.”
The Micah Mission also recently expanded to partner with students at St. Thomas More College to form Micah on Campus. Several students now volunteer in person-to-person prison visits and sit on CoSAs.