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Hope for Lifers

Larry White, flanked by Trinity parishioners Lonny Shockley (left) and Roz Hall (right). Photo by Jim Melchiorre.

by Jim Melchiorre

Restoring hope to people behind prison walls is a special calling of churches and other faith communities.

The challenge to churches to adopt that task comes from Larry White, a former prisoner, who spoke to a meeting of the Trinity Wall Street Task Force against Racism in the Parish Center on December 17.

The event marked the 30th anniversary of the task force and the 10th year of Trinity’s prison ministry.

White spent more than three decades behind bars following a conviction for an armed robbery in 1976 in which two persons were shot to death.  After being denied parole five times, White left prison about six years ago and now coordinates a program, inside the walls, called Hope Lives for Lifers. 

The program is aimed at helping younger prisoners, especially African-American and Hispanic males between the ages of 16 and 24, who are facing life sentences, make good use of their time.

“I told them I’d come back [after parole] and I did come back,” White recalled.

“While I was in prison, I went through some extraordinary changes,” White said. “The person who stood before that judge is not the person standing before you now.”

White says there is a growing realization, even among conservative politicians, that incarceration rates in the United States must be reduced.  Yet, even as prison populations decline slightly, White sees “a spike in young people of color” receiving life sentences.

White believes the system must change from one of punishment to one of reform but “this country is deeply ingrained with punishment.”

Roz Hall, Trinity parishioner, says she invited Larry White to address the Task Force against Racism after being introduced to him by the Rev. Canon Petero Sabune, a priest who served on the Trinity staff in the 1990s and more recently completed an assignment as one of the chaplains at New York’s Sing Sing Prison.

“I have always found the richest part [of prison ministry] is interacting with the community of recently-incarcerated people, “Hall said.

White applauded prison ministries organized by churches and other faith communities and offered advice.

“Invite recently-incarcerated people into your prison ministry and hear their stories,” White suggested.

“Then sit down with those who make the rules [of the prison system]. As a church, you have connections. That’s what I’m offering to Trinity Wall Street, and all [faith] communities.”

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