“I’m kind of a cheerleader for them when we’re in the jail,” Bob Barry says. “In my presence and listening I hope I am making a difference in the cycle of crime and poverty, to provide a job. A job is so important to the sense of self-worth and well-being to feel like a productive human being.”
Bob Barry is an Ignatian Volunteer at the Dakota County Jail in Hastings, Minnesota. His prime function is trying to find jobs for inmates leaving the jail. He reaches out to employers to identify those willing to interview former inmates. He set up an internal email system within the jail to share job openings, and works two days a week with inmates, as a liaison for those interested in applying for employment.
“Our conversations are like a father and a child,” Bob states. “They’re no longer criminals, no longer felons. They’re people who have made mistakes. They for the most part don’t deny these mistakes. They’re hopefully ready to change their lives and become productive citizens. I’m there to help.”
“When they leave the jail, they’re really on their own. With the job search, we encourage, coax, and motivate. But because they’re returning to a neighborhood, family, or situation that’s often dysfunctional, they face so many challenges that it’s easy to bump the job search to the bottom of the list.”
“I’ll share one example. ‘Billy’ used to have his own business before his time in jail. While in jail, he took advantage of many positive programs available, like anger management, parenting skills, employment readiness programs with resume writing, and more. Because I saw his background, I was able to make a contact for him with an employer in Minneapolis who agreed to interview him.
“He left jail on Christmas Eve and returned home to discover that he had been evicted and that his personal identification and passport had been stolen. Holy mackerel! Where does his job search go on his list of priorities?
“When I heard that this had happened, I called him to see how he was doing. Things had somewhat improved. I reminded him of the agreement we’d made. He would write a letter that described his background, his mistake that put him in jail, and his commitment to change. We’d submit that to the employer. Then Billy would be invited for an interview. We reviewed these steps and he said he’d do it. I asked him to keep in touch so I can know of the outcome. I offered that if this connection doesn’t work, I’m still here for him if he wants the help. This is all occurring right now, so we’ll see what happens.”
“This happens in a number of cases. We recognize the dysfunction that they return to after jail.”
“’Sam’ is 42 years old. He has spent 17 of those 42 years in prison. He has been in and out because of meth, the buying and selling of drugs. He always felt the police were the antagonists and live in a different world. Now that he’s in the Dakota County Jail, he recognizes that enough is enough. He says he’s sick and tired of being sick and tired. You get a sense of that internal desire to change. You want to help them change. Not tell him what to do, but give hope of a better way of living. All of the inmates I’ve dealt with are absolutely thankful for what the jail is doing for them (with their re-entry programs) and for what I’m doing.”
“One guy who I worked with is an alcoholic who has had a drinking problem all his life. After he left jail 6 months ago, I got an email from him. He said, ‘I have never felt more supported in my life than the time I spent in Dakota County Jail.’ This is a good statement and a sad statement at the same time.”
“Having been in the corporate world for 30 years, we’re very goal- and objective-oriented. Here I can’t measure tangibly what I’ve done with all these conversations, with about 150 people in the time I’ve been there. You encourage, encourage, encourage. Then they’re on their own when they leave jail. It’s in God’s hands. I share this with my Spiritual Reflector and my wife.”
“God is working. We don’t feel or recognize that all the time, but when we reflect on it, we realize He is present. It really is an act of faith that what we’re doing is acting as an instrument of God. We don’t always feel it, but IVC’s spiritual reflection really helps.”
“The best advice I received recently is to experience the work in the jail as a participation with the Lord. I can’t do it myself. But I ask the Lord to be with me when I’m working with this person and am conscious of His presence.”