Julianne Hinkel (Part 2)

Facilitator for Pathfinders

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Community Service, Education, Power of Prayer

Julianne Hinkel shares how she prayerfully prepares for her work to help prisoners re-enter society. Read on to find out how she gives responsibility to God, takes Jesus' non-judgmental message to heart and stays open, and why the parable of the Prodigal Son means to much to her.

How do you prayerfully or mentally prepare for the job? My preparation has changed over the 11 or so years I've been working in the prison, first as a counselor, then as a case manager, a teacher of some classes, and now as a facilitator for the Summit Program. In the beginning when I drove through the gate, I had a physical reaction. I felt my body tense up because I was so sensitive to the atmosphere. On the way to work, I would listen to hymns or spiritual music or Bible passages to help calm and inspire me.

I'm much more comfortable now that I've come to the realization that I'm not the one doing anything. God is. I'm more of a facilitator. My job is about letting go of the sense of responsibility and getting ready to listen so that I can respond to the need of the moment. I'm not there to change anyone or to say the right thing. I'm there to do my best and to bring an energy of light and love and hope, which is different from what the inmates have experienced. I don't see myself as having all this wisdom to convey to them. They slowly begin to realize that they are their own teachers. I learn so much from them.

My preparation for my work is to put myself into a centered and open place of self-acceptance, love, and humility, so when the students come into my classroom, I can provide the atmosphere of acceptance for them. There are hard nights when someone is angry at something. There can be a lot of tension as they are getting ready to be released. As short-timers, they begin to get stressed about the future. Things at home may not be good. A student may have come into class just having talked to his kids' foster mom or to his mom who may have abused his kids.

Rather than worry about the tension, I keep my mind clear so that I don't hold onto any beliefs about them regarding how they acted the previous night. We're all here to receive answers and inspiration. There are times when I feel like I've stepped out of myself, and am watching myself talk with them. I know that it's the Truth that's talking. It's not me. That brings me to the Bible.

How has the Bible affected your work in the prison?
Ever since I was a kid, I have thought of Jesus' message as non-judgmental. There are a lot of obvious examples of this, particularly the time when the adulterous woman was brought to him. He didn't condemn her. He set her free and told her to stop doing wrong. What a shift in consciousness for her!

A shift in consciousness is just what people need. In prison, the inmates are in touch with how to be a criminal. They tend not to know how to get back into society without the kinds of skills we teach them. Many who are released often do something on purpose to get back in because they feel better in a prison culture where they have food, shelter, a job, and a purpose.

Working from a standpoint of love, not judgment, enables a shift in consciousness. This lack of judgment doesn't mean that there's not a consequence for wrong-doing. There is. But if people are going to get past the place of fear, they need to experience non-judgment, such as Jesus provided.

Those of us who work in the program don't excuse their wrong-doing. We're hard on the prisoners, but in a different way: we have high standards for them. We tell them that they're really going to have to work hard and be reviewed once a month. We also see them as people. They even tell us, "You treat us like we're people," rather than a stamped number on prison clothes. It's completely new for them. It's amazing to see them open up and change. We have graduating students who say, "This is the first time I've ever felt safe in my life."

It's amazing how we all benefit when these former inmates are given a chance to start their lives over having learned new skills. Rather than criminals, they are members of our community who understand trust, who want to do the right thing, who can process feelings rather than get high. They've learned how to love. It's love that's going to heal people, not hate and anger leveled at them for what they've done wrong.

Are there any other Bible stories that speak to you?
The parable of the Prodigal Son has meant a lot to me. A lot of my students are dealing with feelings of guilt and shame. As they write and tell their life stories, they recognize that their actions have hurt the people they love the most -- children, parents, siblings. When they let themselves feel and recognize the effect of their choices, they want to repair and mend their relationships. They don't want to hurt their loved ones again. Humility is a big part of being able to change.

The prodigal son must have come to a place of humility after he spent all of his dad's money. He goes back and asks his dad if he can work for him. It's awesome to see the dad's response -- the open arms and unconditional love of the father. But what speaks to me as I work with people in the program is the son's transformation. He realized he didn't want to live that way. He wanted a relationship and a future with his dad. He left his rotten way of living and returned in humility.

We're prepping these "prodigals" to get out and be successful. As we do, we talk about their relationships and ask if there's anyone they're going to have to cut out of their lives because the relationship is damaging to them. It may even be a family member. We also talk about how to mend the relationships that are important and beneficial to them.

At graduation, there are a lot of happy tears. Both sides are often scared about the reunion. The graduate has to prove that he's really changed. At one graduation, one of the mothers of a former inmate spoke about what it was like when her son was breaking the law. She never stopped loving him. She knew the real person and hoped he would find himself again. She got to see the transformation -- he found himself again.

I could go on for hours about how amazing it is to see these individuals get welcomed back after all the pain and hurt. Very rarely do we see a family member reject them. People whom they thought they'd never speak to again bring them clothes or give them a ride. It's so extremely humbling for them. They're feeling and experiencing love. I always tell them, "If you love, then you get love back." We all deserve love.