St. James Woodstock Partners with Dismas House to Restore Former Prisoners to Community
By Maurice L. Harris | Diocesan Communications Minister
When it comes to local mission, some parts of the mission field appear thornier than others. For members of St. James-Woodstock who volunteer at Dismas House, appearances aren’t everything. They also see the briar patch as a place of healing for those who have fallen out of communion with the community.
Dismas House provides a unique model of reconciliation for former prisoners to reintegrate into society. Unlike the traditional halfway house, Dismas recruits college students and volunteers to live with former prisoners or prepare and share meals at one of several designated houses in order to reestablish a sense of community.
“What we hope to gain is to decrease the stigma around individuals who have been incarcerated,” says Renee DePaulo, director of the Harford Dismas House. “Just sitting down for a meal with them goes a long way. It gives our volunteers a better understanding of the lives and stories of people who have been incarcerated.”
As explained on the organization’s website, the name recalls the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus, a story associated with forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite the Christian reference, Dismas has no specific religious affiliation. Although, as St. James member Barbara Drufovka says, “It happens that a lot of church members volunteer.”
Drufovka is one of those volunteers, and for this middle school teacher, Dismas House provides an opportunity to engage in local mission and encourage some of her former students.
“I taught for a few years at the Community High School of Vermont, which is managed through the Department of Corrections,” she explains. “I occasionally see a former student there. As with all students, I feel it’s important for them all to know that there is a community of adults who want to support them as they work to make good choices in life.”
In order to accommodate the St. James volunteer roster, three members cook at Dismas each month, and the combination of cooks varies. “We coordinate via email during that week and all bring a different part of the meal,” Drufovka continues. “Comfort food goes over well!”
“St. James has been amazing,” DePaulo added. “They’ve cooked for us multiple times a year, and they come with open minds and hearts. It’s a fulfilling and rewarding experience both for them and us.”