A Message from Hans upon his Retirement
Recognizing that change is the spice of life, it is with joy and deep gratitude that I look back on my privilege of serving as the Director of the Prison Partnership Program. From an inspired outreach effort by three churches in the Hudson River Presbytery in 2007, this ministry has, over the years, evolved into a broad-based faith organization named the Interfaith Prison Partnership (IPP).
Since its inception, the primary goal of this organization has been to raise awareness of, and reach out to, those incarcerated in our midst. As well, we have worked on the improvement of our criminal justice system, all based on scriptural commands.
IPP is gratified that about twenty percent of the Presbytery’s eighty Hudson Valley churches have, over time, responded to our outreach to create their own prison outreach initiatives. The IPP’s Advisory Board has engaged members from Muslim, Jewish, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and Presbyterian Church organizations.
IPP’s innovative Adopt-A-Prison program (AAP) proved to be a lifesaver when introduced as a pilot at the Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities at the onslaught of the COVID pandemic and has received national attention through workshops at American Correctional Association (ACA) conferences, through several articles in the ACA membership magazine Corrections Today, as well as in Presbyterians Today.
None of this would have been possible without the unique organizing skills and tireless efforts of IPP program director Sharon Griest Ballen. When the COVID pandemic broke out, her talents were immediately called upon. She was appointed as Chair of the Prison Relations Advisory Committee (PRAC) to the Town of Bedford. Sharon’s unique abilities to keep multiple balls in the air is demonstrated also in her planning of three annual UN events themed “The Intersection of Poverty and Prison,” bringing prison reform issues onto the global level.
Great thanks also goes to Union Theological Seminarian, and IPP intern, Mark Davies, a former head of New York City’s Ethics office, turned theologian. Mark Davis has made in invaluable contribution to IPP based on his mature insights, legal skills, strong social consciousness and sincere compassion for those in need. IPP is much indebted to Mark for continuing with IPP on its Advisory Council.
The recently established fiscal sponsorship arrangement with Hour Children Inc., a well-established and highly respected prison outreach and reentry organization, is a most welcomed cooperation with considerable synergistic potential.
It is with great joy that I welcome Rev. Siobhan Sargent as the new Director of IPP. Her background as a seasoned theologian and years as an active Methodist pastor, combined with a well demonstrated social justice fervor as a former community organizer, make her uniquely qualified for the task of bringing IPP to the next level.
Stepping down from daily IPP leadership admittedly comes with some degree of relief, but at the same time a deep gratitude for my more than twenty-five years in life-giving prison related ministry. This gratitude includes appreciation of the freedom to reflect on the vast challenges and opportunities in a world struggling with social, racial, justice and climate changes on an unprecedented global scale; challenges and opportunities which can ultimately only find solutions in the psychological, spiritual and cosmological realm. Only the truth can set us free…