Family members of offenders who experience an encounter with the criminal justice system often struggle with shame and isolation while living in their own communities. For those who are related to incarcerated prisoners, they serve their own prison sentences in their homes, jobs, churches and social environments. It is the new leprosy which is consuming the peace of mind, hopes and dreams of innocent individuals, leaving them to work out their own approach to dealing with a criminal justice encounter.

It is an incredibly painful reality to feel that you have no one that you can approach to share your burden, no vision of hope and light as you navigate this dreadful road with the intense feelings of anger, betrayal and mistrust. It is one thing to be in intense pain, but quite another thing to have no one available to help lighten the load. Distractions, confusion and deceptions become daily encounters as the justice system drains you of hope, monetary resources and personal peace. Eventually lives are reduced to a series of transactions and you try to make the best deal you can and move on with life.

The scars of that experience diminish the quality of life for all family members and can result in significant mental health problems, divorce, separation from God and even early death. Since few professionals understand the long term consequences of a criminal justice encounter, there are few individuals who can offer realistic guidance and practical assistance to support your adjustments to this new reality. Coupled with this lack of resources, family members encounter rejection and lack of empathy from those who have previously professed to be friends.

It is a dehumanizing experience that drains all family members of hope, safety and joy, though individual members will react differently to this situation. This results in the destruction of family boundaries from within, while the social forces of condemnation are destroying the family from outside the family boundaries. It is like waking up one day and finding out that everyone else now speaks an unknown new language and you have become unable to communicate your concerns, needs and fears in an understandable or meaningful way to others. Eventually many families just stop trying to be heard and give themselves up to the experience of social death and community isolation.

When families reach that point they are faced with making difficult choices. Do I stay committed to my family or do I cut the burden loose and try to reduce the harm that has been done to the family within the community. If others are unable to understand this painful dilemma, it only adds to the burdens of social isolation. But there are other families who have experienced these same issues and have found a way to stay committed to the preservation of their families. That is the primary purpose that Dismas Project was founded. To assist family members as they struggle under the tremendous burden of having a loved one publically charged with a crime and later excluded from society. There are others who are walking this road and we encourage you to join us as we forge our collective experiences into a body of knowledge and resources which will help others engaged in this struggle.

The very things that caused you pain, sorrow and a desire to withdraw from community life will help to heal other families that are caught up in the legal nightmare. Silent shame destroys innocent lives, while freedom of expression offers us liberty, fundamental support and courage to move forward, in facing these challenges as a larger family sharing each other’s burdens. Alone we are powerless, together we can survive the trauma of criminal charges and/or imprisonment. This is a community page to be developed by its users to meet the needs of those who follow in these tragic footsteps. Help us to help others. Your experiences are valid and can make a difference in the lives of others.

Changing hearts, one person at a time.

According to early Christian tradition, Dismas was the name of the thief who called out to Jesus on the cross asking, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus promptly replied, “This day thou shalt be with me in. paradise.” Given that in the last moments of life, Our Lord redeemed a dying prisoner from the eternal consequences of his sins, it is fitting to call this ministry Dismas Project.