by Alex TwoSpirit
“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.“ -Carl Bard
Second chances. “To err is human,” as the saying goes. When we make mistakes, when we feel we’ve failed, when we feel the outcome could be different “if only”…It’s times like these that we cling to a another chance to set things right, to show the world we can be better than our follies or circumstances. In fact, it’s this very notion that has made our country celebrated worldwide – anyone can build themselves up and achieve greatness, and if they fall, they can build themselves up again, Lady Liberty always waiting with her hand extended. Yet for many, this dream of freedom and forgiveness doesn’t seem so readily attainable, even if the desire to overcome is there. When your follies are on public record instead of mere family gossip; when your circumstance is mental illness that you can’t afford to treat; when your bottom is a pit of addiction and the helping hands were never there to begin with…who is willing to acknowledge you, let alone give you a second chance?
There is a local man who believes that all of us, especially those coming from dire straits, deserve second chances. If people are ready to try a new approach to become the person they were truly meant to be, and embrace hope, love, and their community, Peter Martin is willing to be that helping hand. With the aid of fellow visionary Daniel Mullins and the generous donations of Corvallis and Albany businesses, these two men founded Shepherd House, a halfway house for men in Albany, and God Gear Inc., a Christian 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that acts as an umbrella for their charitable works. God Gear Inc. also works closely with The Shift church in Albany, an alternative Christian experience that accepts those from all walks of life. For those willing to adhere to their policies of respect for one’s self and others, show commitment to God, work, school, and treatment, Shepherd House and God Gear Inc. is in turn willing to do everything they can to help residents regain control of their lives.
Peter’s foremost concern is for the residents of the house, and the stigma that their problems and the concept of halfway houses hold for the uninformed. People may fear the idea of living near ex-inmates, addicts, or those with mental disorders. However, properly run halfway houses often turn out to be the best of neighbors, as the residents know that they are being held to higher standards than the rest of the community and that they have to prove themselves twice over to show that their word means something. They’re there because they want a different life from what they knew – they want their children back, an education and job to be proud of, a label other than “trouble” for once.
Amidst a commercial zone once known for illegal activities, Shepherd House is located in a former Salvation Army home. The residents have helped clean up their corner of the neighborhood, working with the police to clear out rabble and offer a safer environment for residents and neighbors across the street alike. Inside the home, residents share rooms, with the chance of earning a single room to for overnight stays with their children if conditions are right (women are allowed day visits only). They tend to a garden on the 1/3 acre property, attend Bible study, 12-step programs, and regular group therapy sessions that teach coping skills and conflict solving, helping to cement a feeling of brotherhood instead of isolation that may be all they knew beforehand. Routine, confidence, and compassion are taught, developing structure and relationship skills for life. Those that need medication, can’t afford GED/education costs, need help with pre-entry detox program costs, finding jobs, etc. are provided for through house fees and community donations. Lastly, Peter stresses that all residents have someone else to answer to aside from the House, whether it be the Department of Human Services, their parole officer, or mental health therapist, so there is supervision at all times.
In addition to Shepherd House, God Gear Inc. offers help to women and single mothers experiencing the same types of community reentry problems and needing assistance caring for their children. The organization is working on opening a similarly structured halfway house in Adair Village for females. In researching where to place the house in Adair, Peter and Daniel were surprised and grateful to learn that the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute wants to work with them to train 30 men and women in construction basics during a three week program. If these residents pass the required tests, the institute will accept them into a two year apprenticeship and then union membership. The details of the program are still being worked out, but may be a step in the right direction to help the determined back into society.
When asked about what prompted the vision of a halfway house, Peter modestly explains he felt a calling and can relate to the residents’ tribulations. With over 7 million Americans under correctional supervision of some kind (2.5 million of which are incarcerated), our society can’t afford to turn our collective back while simply hoping their problems disappear and don’t become ours. We need better, more economically sustainable solutions to help our fellow man become productive citizens–nay, even begin to feel human again. God Gear Inc. hopes to create houses like this for men and women in every city. Peter explains that the acceptance of a higher power helps 80% of those looking to change do so permanently, while those struggling without any type of faith recidivate 75% of the time. He ponders the irony of a society that has removed faith from the public entirely, but then hands a prisoner the Bible for hope. He wonders if we encourage faith exploration sooner if we could help some of these people before they end up hopeless, dwelling in the dark places we’d all like to forget exist.
“We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.” – William Somerset Maugham
If you are interested in learning more or donating to Shepherd House, please visit: http://godgearinc.org/
The Shift Church of Albany website: http://www.discovertheshift.com/#/home