The 20th anniversary celebration of Exodus House — a United Methodist residential ministry for those recently released from prison — brought back vivid memories for Shane Vaughn.
“Exodus House is where God turned my life around,” said Vaughn, one of 75 people who attended the Aug. 20 gathering.
“Before I came to this place, I had been released from prison three times. When I got out each of those times, I went back to my same old haunts, hung out with same guys, and did the same stupid things that had gotten me into trouble before. And the same thing happened: I went back to prison.”
He explained that while he was in prison the fourth time, he met a team of Christian men who were witnessing to the miracles God had performed in their lives. Being with them, he says, helped him realize the way he was living wasn’t working.
“I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. If I didn’t get sober and straighten up, I was going to be in prison the rest of my life. That’s not the life I wanted, but I didn’t think I could change. The men helped me believe I could. They helped me get in Exodus House when I was released.”
The anniversary celebration also brought back memories for the Rev. Stan Basler. Now professor of Restorative Justice and Mercy Ministries at Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University, Basler was executive director of Oklahoma Conference Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries when Exodus House was created.
He became more aware of the prison recidivism problem in 1994, when he and the Rev. Dale Tremper were joint pastors of Redemption Church, a congregation in Oklahoma City made up primarily of current prisoners, former prisoners and families of prisoners.
Disturbed by the high percentage of people who go back to prison soon after their release, Basler and Tremper started envisioning ways to minimize the obstacles former inmates face in staying out of prison.
Their efforts led to the creation of Exodus House, a supportive environment where recently released prisoners could live six months rent-free while receiving physical, emotional, mental and spiritual help that would help them deal with their addictions, find jobs and prepare to live responsibly on their own.
Vaughn said when he first arrived, he didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t take him long to find out. He had to obey rules and be accountable.
One rule he dreaded was going to church twice a week. “The few times I had been to church, I had felt like a mule at the Kentucky Derby, but I felt right at home at Redemption Church.”
He said that for the first time in his life, he was living with people who brought out the best in him and not the worst.
Nearly 15 years have passed since Vaughn graduated from Exodus House. He’s been clean and sober and out of prison ever since. He owns and operates a construction business and is part of a happy family that’s active in church and supportive of good causes — especially Exodus House.
Basler says generous support from many sources — including individuals, local churches, foundations, the Oklahoma Annual Conference and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries — helped to secure a 12-unit apartment complex in Oklahoma City. The first applicants moved in on Aug. 20, 1998. In 2002, a second Exodus House was opened in Tulsa to help meet needs in the eastern part of the state.
During the 20 years Exodus House in Oklahoma City has been in ministry, Basler estimates more than 500 recently released prisoners have entered the program. He says probably 200 of those who entered didn’t complete the program, and at least 300 have graduated.
Kristin Harlin, executive director of Oklahoma Conference Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries, says the goal of Exodus Houses is to help released prisoners re-enter society.
“Our recidivism rate is 1.6 percent, meaning 98.4 percent of our program graduates in the past five years did not return to prison,” she said.
She said the most recent study reports Oklahoma's incarceration rate is 1,079 per 100,000 people, which is not only the highest in the United States, it’s the highest rate in all countries with a population of at least 500,000.
Harlin is now leading workshops across the state to share insights learned at Exodus House with local churches to help them minister to recently returned prisoners in their area.
“God used all of it together — the supportive community, the individual counseling, the help with my alcohol and drug addiction, the classes, the Bible studies, worship services — to give me a new life,” said Vaughn.
An ordained United Methodist minister, Bowdon directed communications for the Oklahoma Conference for 24 years. In retirement, he writes inspirational articles and books.
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