USA (MNN) — Crossroads Prison Ministries has been mailing Bible study lessons to inmates for over 30 years. However, last fall, they found out that students in Michigan prisons weren’t getting the lessons anymore.
Crossroads’ executive director Lisa Blystra explains, “Contraband was starting to be introduced into the prison through the mail. The biggest challenge really for the Department of Corrections was that narcotics were starting to come into the prison and they were hidden in colored ink. So the department’s response to that was in September they put a block on all incoming mail that had any colored ink on it.”
The problem was Crossroads had recently started including colored graphics and elements into their Bible study lessons. Students had voiced a desire for more color as a way to engage the materials.
“So what had never been a problem for years all of a sudden became a problem and we learned that none of our lessons would be getting into the students in the State of Michigan, which was very concerning.”
The ban on colored mail in Michigan prisons went into effect in September, and Crossroads started seeing mail returned around the middle of October. With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, it made the timing even more concerning since the holiday season can be incredibly lonely for inmates.
“It really was heartbreaking for us to think that none of the mail we were sending to them — coming either in the form of lessons or, we always have a large Christmas card project — that none of that was getting to the students,” shares Blystra.
“We just really embarked on an aggressive prayer campaign. We engaged all of the mentors that are a part of Crossroads across the United States.”
Additionally, Crossroads met with the Department of Corrections officials in Lansing to explore a solution.
“Certainly they were sensitive to our concerns but also pointed out they have a huge responsibility as it relates to safety of the prisons as well as safe custody of the inmates that reside within those prisons.”
Eventually, they had good news. On March 1, a new prison mail policy was implemented that meant Crossroads’ Bible study lessons could now get through to Michigan inmates again.
“The biggest change is they have loosened up the restrictions on colored ink and [are] allowing printed items to come in that are printed on a color copier, which should significantly reduce the rejections including our Bible study materials that are coming into the prisons,” Blystra says.
“I am glad to report that just in the last couple of weeks, we are very encouraged and we are starting now to see evidence that our mail is, in fact, getting to the students. They are completing their Bible study lessons and they are coming back to us. So we are pretty certain that the new policy is having the effect that we had hoped for.”
Crossroads is still evaluating the changes of this prison mailing policy update. Mailroom staff across Michigan are being trained on new policy procedures, so it may still take awhile for the ministry to see its fullest impact.
“We have a ways to go. We are still in the process of having conversations about some other things that we publish and produce. They made some different rules about weight of paper that they will accept and just some other things that we are going to have to continue to try to work around.”
Moving forward, Crossroads staff feel positive about the mailing process and, ultimately, what it means for the spread of the Gospel among incarcerated men and women.
Blystra reflects, “I think what this was such a reminder of to me was that we are in territory that the Devil doesn’t really like, the work we are a part of. I never would have dreamed that sending in mail could have become a problem, so I don’t ever want to take for granted the amazing opportunity that is before us if the doors to prisons stay open to the faith-based community. So we would just covet prayers that that would continue to be the case so we can continue to…bring the hope of the Gospel to men and women behind prison walls.”
Crossroads is also looking for more Christians to get involved in prison ministry! It doesn’t require going into the prisons either. By becoming a mentor with Crossroads, you can facilitate a Bible study lesson for a student and correspond with encouragement that they are not alone in their faith journey.
“As the ministry continues to grow and flourish, we have a growing student population and we also need a growing group of volunteers that are available to be correspondents to our students who are in prison. So [we] are always looking for people who would join us.”