Michigan ministry aims to help ex-cons

By Jennifer Timar
Livingston Daily

LIVINGSTON, Mich. (AP) — Steve Blaser was fresh out of prison in 2013.

He found God behind bars but needed someone to help guide him on the outside.

That’s when he found a mentor through the Second Chance Support Network. He said his mentor and job search training helped change his life.

“Before I got out, I prayed that God would only point me to people who would point me back to him, and that’s when Second Chance came in,” Blaser, a 33-year old Hartland Township resident, told the Livingston Daily. “I met with my mentor every week for a year doing Bible studies, we would talk about life and he would hold me accountable.”

Second Chance Support Network connects people coming out of jail or prison with mentors, provides career readiness and job placement services and helps clients fulfill community service hours, among other services.

The ministry has been expanding its outreach since opening a new resale shop and headquarters in July in Brighton Township.

Directors are also trying to raise funds to open an automotive shop to fix clients’ vehicles in the future.

Blaser said a road rage incident landed him in prison for 13 months.

“It helped just to have someone other than parents there to hold you accountable ... and ask how you are doing looking for jobs, how are you doing spiritually, are you taking your medication. ... It was a source of encouragement,” Blaser said.

He is now married with a 14-month son and another baby on the way.

He found work in manufacturing with help from the ministry and is now taking time off to pursue a degree in ministry leadership at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids.

The ministry has helped keep ex-cons from going back to jail, according to ministry founder Jennifer Bigelow.

“We judge our success by recidivism rates, and within our program it’s only about 17 percent,” Bigelow said.

Nationally, about two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested within three years of release, according the National Institute of Justice.

Since opening the new resale shop in July, after working out of a small office out of Centerpointe Church in Howell, Bigelow has seen more clients and mentors join the ministry.

“The new location is helping us grow and become a lot more visible in the county,” she said. “Before, we would get one or two new clients a month, now we have one or more clients walking in each week.”

Before the move, about 30 people volunteered as mentors. There are now about 50.

“Our next goal is a car ministry, because we dream big,” Bigelow said. “This would be a mechanic shop in the back of our building, which would help keep people’s cars on the road, because a lot of clients don’t have money to fix their cars when they get out.”

Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy said he is “a firm believer in this program.

“One the big things we always struggle with in the criminal justice world is recidivism,” Murphy said. “As a jail, we only have control over them when they are in jail, and a lot do well in our programs, but when they get out and have freedom, they may make poor choices.

“The probation department does well, but they can’t be there all the time, they make sure the person does what is court-ordered,” he said. “The mentors (at Second Chance Network) are people of good character who have a history of making good decisions.”

Ex-offender Marie Lynn Perry found her “biggest support system” in the ministry after being incarcerated, she said.

Her first stint in prison happened in 2005, after she got her third drunk driving conviction. She said she found out about the Second Chance Support Network after serving about two years for home invasion.

“Let’s say I started (criminal behavior) back when I was young and cocaine was in the picture,” Perry, a 55-year old Howell resident, said. “Drinking was a problem after that.”

The ministry helped her find addiction recovery groups and land a job working at a McDonald’s restaurant. They also helped her find rides to work, since her license was suspended.

“Now I work for myself cleaning houses, and after having a home invasion (charge) ... having someone allow me in their home is a blessing,” she said. “I’d like to be a recovery coach someday.”

Published: Thur, Oct 25, 2018