By Kimberly Benson
About 16 years ago, I wrote my first book and asked the first lady of our church to edit it for me, since she was an English major. She agreed and was so impressed. She was also the head of the women's ministry. I just knew that she would want me to help her head the women's ministry after reading my book, but to my dismay, she didn't. She actually said that she did not want my overcomer story told in the church at all. What? Really? Why would she not want me to talk about how God had brought me through all of this hell? She referred me instead, to the head of the prison ministry to see if she needed help. I couldn't believe this was happening as I had seen TV shows about prison; rapes, shankings, hollering, screaming, gang fights, etc. No way. I couldn't keep still, so I introduced myself to the prison ministry team leader and told her what the first lady said, hoping she would talk to her and convince her to take me on in the women's ministry, but again, disappointment. She told me she would welcome me with open arms into the prison ministry.
To prepare I watched all of the TV prison riot shows and movies to prepare - that was not a good idea! I went, scared, mumbling under my breath the whole time. As we entered the chapel, the ladies of the state correctional center were already in the midst of worship. What? That is not what they showed on TV. They showed ignorance, mayhem, and anything but Godly order. I was immediately convicted and hooked. I looked up from my seat and there were free women in that prison, free for the first times in their lives; freer than some people on the outside that I knew. From that moment on, I was there every chance I could get. I began serving monthly, then weekly, at large events, and even for small Bible studies.
I was asked one night to give my testimonial to the women. As I began to tell them of my previous rapes, having been molested, then sold into sexual exploitation by a female friend of mine, I began seeing more tears, people falling to their knees, and some began hollering out to Jesus. I didn't understand what had happened, but I realized because I was bold enough to tell my story, even in an unconventional place, people were helped and even set free from their own pasts. After service, many girls told me that my past resembled theirs, too. They asked if I would come back so I could help them get over it too. And that is just what I did. I developed a curriculum for overcoming abuse and took it to the women at the prison and it was the best move I had ever made.
This sharing session was so well received at the prison, that the prison staff asked me to begin a support group to help victims of human trafficking and prostitution to recover and gain life and social skills to help them with a successful reentry into the community. We did. My church even offered me to begin my own ministry within those very walls and we did! A Bridge of Hope Ministries was born and began thriving in the very place I thought was a last resort. It proved to be the most effective for my own spiritual growth and mental recovery, but also proved to be the thing that many of those precious women, victims, and now overcomes, needed to. We needed one another.
We began developing other curriculum to help them with their abuse recovery, life skills, anger management, alcohol and drug recovery, forgiveness, employment skills, financial literacy, parenting, and so much more. We have access to 15 prisons throughout the state, but focus on 2. We were so successful and requested that a county prison, which is co-ed asked us to begin working with the male batterers that were incarcerated. We did and now we can help not only the victims, but the aggressors, and families/caregivers to their children, when they are locked up.
We have gained the respect of the staff and are now part of their state reporting to the government and show marked improvement in the behavior of the participants of our groups. We have measured impact, which continues to increase. We have seen a reduction in recidivism and violations of probation/parole. We have seen people graduate high school, college, trade school, have babies, getting married, getting their first cars, getting legal employment, paying taxes and for some even chid support for the first time, and even hear about people mentoring others in prevention of any more people in their sphere of influence going to prison.
Human trafficking is alive and well and so many people have been victimized. Our organization can help the prostituted women on the street, in the hotel, the one on the internet, but have found that the most fertile ground has been within the prison walls. Incarcerated individuals are usually thought of as criminals and we just want to lock them up and throw away the keys. I ask you this, where will they live when they get out? Next to you? Wouldn't you want to have deposited into their lives so that they don't break into your house? Wouldn't you wanted to have deposited into them to see a real change in the world?
We all talk about changing the world, but don't want to do any work to make it a better place. I strongly encourage you to be the change in the world that you want to see. If we don't care, who will?