Reported by Lola Michael Russell
Kairos began with the first course in Christianity inside Union Correctional Institution at Raiford, Florida in the fall of 1976. It was called Cursillo in Prison and, by 1978, six states were presenting a Cursillo course in prisons. The national Cursillo office determined these prison ministries be modified to more closely align with inmate needs. The Florida group was asked to design such a program, which was renamed Kairos (Greek for Godʼs Special Time).
The first Kairos Prison Ministry weekend was presented in 1979, and this program is now called Kairos Inside. It is a ministry whose mission is to develop Christian communities inside male and female prisons. The program, based upon a series of talks, discussions, and chapel meditations, brings positive and negative leaders together for a weekend retreat led by Kairos volunteers. For many participants, Kairos Inside creates the desire to become a Christian and for others the desire to continue their spiritual growth. Although Kairos Prison Ministry is a Christian program, no religious affiliation is necessary to be a guest.
After a Kairos Inside weekend, the participants continue to meet weekly in Prayer-and-Share Groups for prayer and fellowship to build a Christian community inside the institution. In addition, each month Kairos volunteers return for a reunion of the entire Kairos community. The fact that volunteers return again and again to each prison is what distinguishes Kairos from other prison ministries. Without this follow up support, the efforts of the retreat would quickly be lost to the prison environment.
As the Kairos community inside a prison grows and begins to gain influence, the incidence of violence decreases, and Kairos has shown to reduce recidivism rates up to 50 percent. In a study of 505 inmates released from Florida prisons, the recidivism rate was reduced by half for Kairos graduates, dropping as low as 10 percent. They re-entered society with a God-centered perspective and a new desire to become productive citizens.
In 1989, a chaplain at the San Quentin State Correctional Facility in California asked Kairos to create a program that would minister to the female family members of the incarcerated. As a result, in April 1990 the second of the Kairos programs, Kairos Outside, held its first weekend in Northern California. Kairos Outside offers a comfortable, non-judging retreat for women to support each other as they journey through the incarceration of a friend or relative.
Kairos Outside begins with a weekend program led by volunteers who address the pain of enduring separation from the one inside and the judgment of others from their community. Kairos Outside helps these women by offering unconditional love and acceptance, providing a safe place to share in small groups, and fostering spiritual growth and community. Any woman 20 years old or older whose life has been affected by the incarceration of a loved one who was unable to attend Kairos Inside while in prison is eligible to attend Kairos Outside.
After the Kairos Outside weekend, the women journey together through SWAP (Share, Witness, Account & Pray) and reunion meetings. They support and encourage each other as they deal with the impact of prison on themselves and their families. The continuing ministries of reunions and SWAP groups allow them to grow in their Christian faith and become active members of the Kairos Outside community.
The third program, Kairos Torch, had its first weekend in September, 1997, at a youth facility in Oklahoma. It was developed uniquely to address young people, 25 and under, experiencing incarceration, through one-to-one volunteer mentoring. The program begins with a weekend retreat in the youth detention center or correctional facility, with a mission to engage young people’s reasoning skills in seeking balance for their lives. The weekend creates a safe place for youth offenders to realize their God-given potential through mentoring by a mature, Christian volunteer. It encourages the stripping away of the masks they hide behind and moves them toward making better life choices.
Kairos Torch team volunteers provide a positive role model for the youth and commit to a weekly mentoring process with the youthful offenders for six months after the weekend, which includes weekly one-to-one mentoring, discussion of self-esteem and anger management, short- and long-term goal setting, and monthly group reunions.
Over 70 percent of incarcerated youth have one or more parents who are also incarcerated. Kairos Torch helps the youth participants begin to make constructive life choices and establish positive relationships — all of which result in hope for the future and a chance to break the cycle of crime.
Today Kairos Inside, Kairos Outside, and Kairos Torch are supported by a staff of 12 and have more than 30,000 volunteers donating 3 million hours of service each year. The Delaware Department of Corrections has opened all of our state prisons to pursue Kairos, and Bishop Brown is asking for our support. The Kairos Prison Ministry is actively seeking volunteers for teams as well as volunteers to serve on advisory councils for each program and our State Chapter Committee. If anyone has any questions or an interest in volunteering, please contact Alec Thomson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302.396.7617, or George Rudgers at email@example.com or 302.362.7171.