Finding hope after prison
When someone walks out of prison, Living Gospel Ministries in Philadelphia is there to love, embrace and support them as they build a new life.
By Carrie Gubsch
Linda Manson believes in underdogs.
“There’s something in me that really connects with the underdog,” Linda said. As the mission developer of Living Gospel Ministries in Philadelphia, an ELCA worshiping community, Linda serves people who have been incarcerated or convicted of a criminal offense — people who are often underdogs.
“These are the people that are most vilified,” she said. “The truth of the matter is that they are our brothers and sisters; they just made a poor choice.”
Living Gospel provides people who have been incarcerated and their families with life skills, employment search assistance and help with accessing government benefits. They also offer support to families and friends who have incarcerated loved ones.
“If there’s anything that I can do to help bring a ray of hope into their lives, then I really feel like that’s what I should be doing,” Linda said. “As a called member of this community of faith, I am called to embrace and love and support my brothers and sisters.”
Linda has a long history of helping people with convictions re-enter society. She has served as a volunteer visitor, a Bible study leader and ran a re-entry program for the Pennsylvania Prison Society. She also served as a member of the team that developed the ELCA social statement on criminal justice — “Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” — that was adopted at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Linda will graduate from The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia next year.
Connecting people with resources
The biggest challenge that most people face after a conviction is finding employment and housing, Linda said. The people she serves often face stigmas from society and employers, and many lose the ability to work in a field that they already have training in.
“That wrong is never righted,” she said. “In society’s eyes they are always the crime they committed and not a whole person.”
David Dupee met Linda in 2012 after being released from prison. Linda has helped David figure out how to find jobs, dress for interviews and learn that he is more than his conviction. David, who is in college studying information technology, speaks frankly about his past and the help that Linda has given him.
“She sees the good in you and tries to use that to make you a better person,” said David. “She’s been a blessing to me.”
Building community and faith
Right now, Living Gospel offers employment search assistance and Life Skills Support to those who have a conviction in their past, but in the future, Linda will expand their ministry and start offering Bible studies and worship.
“They are anxious to meet for Bible study, have support groups and worship,” said Linda. The stigma that makes it hard for people with criminal convictions also makes it hard for them to feel at home in most congregations. Those relationships and community connections are most often the things that keep people on track after a conviction, Linda said.
“It’s a really simple thing that most people don’t think about,” she added. “If they are able to stay in community and not experience stigma and be ostracized, that really helps them stay on track.”
Linda often speaks at congregations about the work she does and ways they can help and encourages them to see people who have committed a crime as “made in the image of God.”
“There is pain and there is hurting on all sides,” she said. “We have brothers and sisters who are really hurting. Yes, they may have committed a criminal act, but we’re called as a people of God not to define people by that.”
“(This issue is) much bigger than Living Gospel,” she said. “This is who we are as the body of Christ.”
Carrie Gubsch is the communications coordinator at Christ the King Lutheran Church in New Brighton, Minn.