A year ago, Jim Blum watched Unguarded for the first time. His immediate reaction was, “This is what I want for my men.” His men are formerly-incarcerated persons he welcomes at My Father’s House (MFH) in Denver, CO, and this is the methodology and experience of APAC, which the documentary, Unguarded, features beautifully.
Association for the Protection and Assistance of the Convicted (APAC) is a revolutionary prison system created by Mario Ottoboni 50 years ago in Brazil. Its goal is to ‘humanize custodial sentences’ and to prepare the incarcerated persons to ask for forgiveness and to feel forgiven. Jim knows first-hand what a custodial sentence is, having spent 20 years in Colorado prisons. While incarcerated, he envisioned a faith-based correctional institution and wrote about it. This dream and his almost 5 years of experience welcoming men on parole resonated deeply with APAC.
I visited Jim in September 2022. After his expression of interest in APAC, AVSI-USA launched the Restorative Freedom Initiative to support MFH‘s work and develop with him a pilot program that adapts the APAC methodology to the experience of reentry in the United States. Now, we meet monthly with Denio from Brazil, who teaches us the methodology step-by-step, and we identify areas of intervention in which the experience of APAC could bear fruit for MFH’s mission.
One of the traditions of My Father’s House is hosting a weekly dinner on Sunday nights, where all the current residents and those who ‘graduated’ are invited to share a meal. Friends and volunteers join too. When I entered the house on one of these Sunday nights, Ivan was wiping a table clean from the dust of the dry Colorado air, while Justin and Latham were cooking veggies, and Jim was firing up the grill. They were ‘preparing a place’ for me. “I go to prepare a place” is the motto of My Father’s House. These men live with immense gratitude to have a safe place to restart their life after imprisonment. Many of them were now able to parole because they had an address. Stability and safety also increase their chances of finding a stable job, thereby slowly providing a hopeful outlook on their futures. The focus of MFH, in fact, is not the reduction of recidivism rates alone, but the restoration of the person, in their desires and potential.
The most striking experience of My Father’s House is this humble, reversed dynamic: Jim prepares a place for the men, and the men prepared a place for me and the other guests of Sunday dinner. Volunteers come to help but are in turn welcomed into a place that has been made ready for them. Thus, the bud of a new community is born.
In the first workshops with APAC, we studied the importance of involving the surrounding community, both to let them know of the existence of My Father’s House and to invite volunteers to contribute what they can to the building of this place. In the coming months, we will focus on the other elements of the APAC methodology: work, spirituality, health, and peer support.
Your contributions will help this partnership grow and develop into a pilot program that can be replicated in similar organizations across the United States. Our hope is that by sharing the message of APAC, we also demonstrate to the larger society the important value of forgiveness and human dignity.
Restorative Freedom Initiative is one of the projects featured in AVSI-USA Annual Campaign. We invite you to consider supporting us and signing up for our newsletter to walk this journey with us.