Pam Stevenson and the rest of the members on the Joseph’s Hammer board are on a mission that would put themselves “out of business.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s right,” Stevenson said with a laugh.
Joseph’s Hammer’s only goal is to raise enough money to build a chapel at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellen Halbert Unit, a women’s prison in Burnet. Each year, approximately 1,100 women pass through the substance abuse felony punishment facility.
“Most of these women, a little over three-quarters of them, are first-time offenders,” Stevenson explained. “And it’s usually something to do with substance abuse, whether that’s alcohol or drugs. And opioids, we see a lot of women come through there with opioid problems.”
Over the years, members of local churches and faith-based groups have gone to the unit to help the women through their struggles. For many of the women, the unit’s substance-abuse program is their best shot of shaking their addictions.
Research has shown that the state program augmented by faith-based assistance drops re-offending rates significantly.
“We found that the recidivism is much lower when (the women) have gone through a faith-based program that volunteers hold in the evenings,” Stevenson said. “Once they get a relationship with God, or rekindle their faith, they leave with the confidence that they don’t have to do this on their own, that he’s right there walking alongside of them. It’s still not easy, but they know they aren’t alone anymore.”
The problem is the limited space for faith programs and worship.
“We have about 350 people who want to come to worship, but only space for 90,” Stevenson explained. “We hold two services, but there are still people turned away who want to worship or attend Bible study because there isn’t enough room.”
The state had planned to build chapels at units such as Ellen Halbert, but when budgets were slashed, the worship areas were among the first items to go.
“Joseph’s Hammer is raising money for a building that will be dedicated for chaplaincy,” Stevenson said.
The plan is for a facility large enough to hold about 350 people for worship along with several classroom spaces. The Ellen Halbert Unit has the land for it.
While some might look down on the women passing through the facility, Stevenson said Christ calls us to look after them and love them. She pointed out that most of the women at Ellen Halbert have an average of four children. Many had good careers before they were sucked into the whirlpool of addiction.
“They want to get their lives back,” Stevenson said. “That’s why they’re there. When they go through sentencing, a judge gives them an option: They can go through a program like (Ellen Halbert) or regular prison. They chose to be there.”
Along with the women at Ellen Halbert, Stevenson said other lives are being changed for the better, including family, friends, and work colleagues.
“We literally have 1,200 women passing through here every year, and you’re touching a lot of lives if you can show them the love of God,” Stevenson said. “We’re hoping people will open their hearts because each month we don’t have this, there are women who leave who couldn’t go to worship, who couldn’t go to Bible study, who couldn’t build that relationship with God.
“And that relationship is so important as they go home and back to their communities,” Stevenson added. “That can help, and does help, sustain them in the rough spots.”
Joseph’s Hammer’s goal is to break ground on the chapel in 2020, but it takes people stepping forward and committing funds to it.
“It’s our sole purpose,” Stevenson said of Joseph’s Hammer. “To raise the money to build the chapel.”