WINTER PARK, Florida (Christian Examiner) -- Two years ago, Catherine Wildes found a friend in Helen White, and that relationship changed her life.
Wildes, described as "depressed, lonely and shy" by the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland, was in her fourth year of a 15-year prison sentence for theft. White was in her fourth year as a volunteer with Kairos Prison Ministry International.
"God does all the work," White said.
The women met at a weekend retreat in the Jessup, Maryland, correctional facility in 2012. Today, "We're like sisters," White said.
Kairos Inside, one of four Kairos Prison Ministry Interntaional programs based in Winter Park, Florida, is a structured outreach to men and women, separately, focused on changing hearts, transforming lives, and impacting the world, according to KairosPrisonMinistry.org. Each month volunteers provide mentoring and guidance through accountability groups to help participants begin to replace old ways of thinking with new ones and learn they are not alone on this journey -- thath they can hope for a better future.
Kairos Outside offers family support, strength and encouragement to female family members of inmates.
Together, the goal is to change the prison environment and to help family relationships heal.
Program coordinators have found that as the Kairos community inside a prison grows and begins to gain influence, the incidences of violence decreases. Also, tey say when participants are released re-enter the outside world, they do so having been exposed to a God-centered perspective with an emphasis on becoming productive citizens.
Kairos Torch, which is geared toward youthful offenders, ages 18 to 25, helps guide participants to acquire God-centered values and a different direction in life.
Kairos Prison Ministry International claims 30,000 volunteers serving in about 400 correctional facilities in 36 states, plus Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
"I used to be a monster," Tommy Fisher offers in a video about Kairos produced by The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Metro Dallas, Texas.
At one time Fisher ran gangs in prison that beat up people who said they wanted to be Christians. Today, though still in prison serving a life sentence, he has two bachelor's degrees and is a licensed counselor.
"Man, if I could tell anyone about Kairos, man, it's changing lives," Fisher said. "I gotta give God back what He gave me. He gave me back my life. He gave me them years the locusts stole from me. He gave them back to me. And I'm thankful for it."
In a study of 505 inmates in Florida, which has an overall recidivism rate of 23.4 percent, only 15.7 percent of those who participated in one Kairos weekend event returned to crime, according to the Kairos website. For those who participated in at least two weekend sessions, the rate dropped even further, to 10 percent who were arrested again.
For more information about Kairos, or other well-known inmate outreach efforts such as Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship, Bill Glass' Prison Ministries, and Chaplain Ray's International Prison Ministry, as well as thousands of local and state ministries, visit PrisonMinistry.net, a consortium of 4,668 prison ministries in 110 nations.