Marcia Manning and her husband, Bud, started volunteering in Oklahoma prisons in 1997, drawn by the opportunity to give inmates the chance to leave their pasts behind and change their lives.
The two, with Penn Avenue Redemption United Methodist Church, have been doing prison-based ministry ever since.
“Inmates are human beings who have made some serious mistakes in their lives,” Marcia Manning says. “They have been given a chance to change their lives in prison and start living for the better … They don’t have to stay the way they have been.”
Her husband, a former inmate himself, got her involved when he learned that a program he took in prison, The I Can Program, was being expanded to other facilities.
It had helped him a great deal, so he wanted to help, too, and Marsha says she joined him. They started by working with inmates inside James Crabtree Correctional Center, a medium-security prison for men in Helena.
Today, the Mannings and about 35 volunteers with the church put on classes for inmates in Oklahoma City-area community corrections centers.
Community corrections-level inmates are close to completing their sentences. Many are incarcerated for non-violent crimes linked to substance abuse or addiction.
Without help transitioning into society, they are more likely to end up back in prison.
The volunteers bring inmates to the church twice a week, feed them, and take them to classes and church services. The inmates can also use the church’s clothing closet for job interview attire.
The classes, which are gender-specific (Manning says men and women tend to distract each other when they’re in classes together, she laughs) include Thinking for a Change, Alcoholics Anonymous, Anger Management and Victims Impact.
Many of the inmates she works with haven’t experienced a lot of love in their life. Most of them grew up without positive role models.
Volunteering is a chance for Manning to show them God’s love, she says, and teach them a few skills they may not have picked up on their own, helping them “live the life they truly want to live.”
“That’s why I do what I do,” she says.
ODOC relies on thousands of volunteers like the Mannings to help its inmates transition from life in prison to life in the community.
Without the help of our volunteers, thousands of inmates wouldn’t get the assistance they need to successfully integrate into society.