After prison, S.C. men find hope with Shield Ministries
By Prioleau Alexander
Melodie Truluck, Amy Haley, Tim Terry, David Truluck and John Ring, Jr. Photos provided by Shield Ministries.
Many years ago I was driving to Camp Pendleton in Southern California and stopped by my alma mater, Auburn University, where I ran into a buddy who’d recently been released from prison after serving two years.
As we caught up on life in general, he told me, “I’m lucky. I have a family I could come home to. I could come back to college. For most ex-convicts, the system makes life nearly hopeless. They get out and have no job; no one wants to hire them; most of them have no skills, so they are stuck in minimum wage jobs; where they can go and what they can do is decided by their parole agent; because they’re released, past money problems pile up; the list of prohibited activities is endless. No one should be surprised by the fact they end up back in prison — they should be surprised when someone stays out.”
That was 30 years ago, and many ex-offenders still find themselves in that endless loop of hopelessness. Thanks be to God, ex-offenders in the Palmetto State wishing to end the post-release cycle of poverty and recidivism have two South Carolina nonprofits that have stepped forward to help break the chains that bind them.
Those two ministries, Fresh Start Visions and Shield Ministries, have for years been serving released ex-offenders who wish to work on themselves and rejoin the community as productive citizens. As reported in the August 2021 issue of the Mercury, these nonprofits’ efforts in partnership with the S.C. Department of Corrections have transformed our state into a national leader in reducing recidivism.
Recently, a small miracle occurred.
Even in the world of altruistic nonprofits, competition often forms between two organizations serving the same general cause. Sometimes this is the result of a need for funding, and sometimes there are differing philosophies and programs; and understandably, founders and their boards are reluctant to give up the “baby” they birthed and nurtured.
In short, nonprofit A is doing good work, and nonprofit B is too. Merging them means change, and change means new systems — why risk the change when things are going well?
Fresh Start Visions and Shield Ministries have decided that they have too much in common not to work together. They agree they are both engaged in a Christian effort to better the lives of ex-offenders, and together they agree that centralizing their funding, efforts and shared goals will make them more effective.
As a result, they’ve stripped away the normal issues, agreed to focus on work to build God’s kingdom and merged. Shield Ministries founder the Rev. David M. Truluck and Fresh Start Visions founder Tim Terry will be working side by side under the name Shield Ministries.
“As founders of both organizations,” Mr. Truluck said, “we are personally excited about the potential of the combined organization, as together we will be stronger and able to offer more efficient and effective services. This merger will improve our outcomes in serving ex-offenders through the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
“This merger will allow us to expand our pathways along the reentry process,” said the Rev. Truluck, “including our pre-release and post-release programs, which include five pillars of service through crisis stabilization, regulatory compliance, life skills, workforce development and spiritual development.”
For those without experience in the realm of non-profits, this may be more than a small miracle; it might be a full-sized one.
To understand these organizations, one must understand the magnitude of their success. Recidivism rates are difficult to determine; they depend upon age, criminal history and time elapsed since release; state and federal prison statistics vary, and data takes years to compile so it often lags behind. According to Prison Legal News, a Bureau of Justice Statistics study completed in 2021 calculated that 43 percent of prisoners were arrested within one year of their release. However, when an ex-offender commits to the programs offered by the newly formed entity Shield Ministries, recidivism drops to almost one percent, as calculated in both 2018 and 2019.
It boggles the mind to think about the reduction in crime, lives transformed and taxpayer dollars saved — all as a result of these men, their boards, their volunteers, their donors and the Lord above. In addition, access to better-paying jobs allows these men to pay child support, restitution, court-ordered counseling fees and more. What more could a donor ask for than results like theirs?
The requirements to participate in programs offered by Shield Ministries starts early — in prison, to be precise. This is when inmates begin their process of changing their lives through a Man in Transition (MIT) program. Offered to all interested men — not just those committing to the Shield Ministries program — the MIT program teaches the men character traits and habits in a biblical way. The teachings center on the attributes employers most seek in new hires.
The transition these men undergo after being released into the program is not a miracle. It’s hard. It demands accountability, commitment and an outward and obvious desire to transform their lives. It demands participation in spiritual growth and an eagerness to learn a valuable work skill. Enrollees must submit to random drug and alcohol tests. There are curfews, strict house rules and a pledge to participate in community service projects.
For many readers, these demands may seem easy to comply with, but consider that some of these men have never been tasked with living within these basic responsibilities. A lack of understanding of many of these life skills is often the reason they were incarcerated in the first place.
Most demanding of all for many ex-offenders is the 18-month commitment the program demands. When a man has been in prison for an extended length of time, it’s only natural to seize the opportunity “to do whatever you want to do” upon release. That’s not the case for Shield participants: They go from being fully monitored in jail to being in a carefully monitored and structured program. While their fellow inmates return home to friends and family, these men are forgoing that luxury. They are working hard to make huge changes and break lifelong habits, simply for the opportunity to be a part of mainstream society.
When you consider that dealing drugs or stealing others’ property can yield a week’s blue-collar pay in a few hours, the temptation simply to return to your previous way of life must be strong. But these men are seeking redemption — from their past, their crimes and the sins that fill all human hearts.
The number of classes and class offerings is vast. Men with addiction issues are enrolled in a Christian 12-step program; participants are taught personal finance and budgeting; workforce training and job placement is provided; counseling is offered to help men heal from the trauma and abuse they’ve endured and to deal with unhealthy relationships from the past. Worship services, Bibles, chaplain services and spiritual counseling are also provided.
When you understand the sweeping opportunity participants are offered — a chance to reinvent their world — it only makes sense the program has strict rules. In prison, lying and beating the system are the keys to success. In Shield Ministries, they are the quickest way to be expelled from the program.
Many have long assumed that recidivism was simply the way of the world — those who live outside the law simply choose that lifestyle and are willing to do the time for the crimes they commit … but here in S.C. we’ve learned that isn’t the case. Just think of it: If simply released back into the world without preparation, an average of 44 percent of the inmates in America return to prison within a year. Participants in the Shield Ministries programs are at one percent — an unbelievable 43 percent below that national average. Miracles do happen when people step out and do what God has called them to do.
There are a lot of heroes in this story, none more so that Jesus Christ, who called Tim Terry, David Truluck and Melodie Truluck to begin their outreach to men in desperate need. There are the volunteers and board of directors who spend countless hours supporting the mission. There are the staff who work with the enrollees and must endure the heartbreak when someone fails to complete the curriculum. Donors provide the fuel that makes the machine run. Finally, there are the men enrolled in the program, striving to make the world a better place one step at a time.
If you’d like to get involved with Shield Ministries and be a part of this radically different Christ-centered movement, visit ShieldMinistries.org. If you are one of many people without the time to do so, please give generously. You will change the lives of some of God’s flock.
Shawn, one of the Men in Transition participants, with David Truluck.
Recidivism at a glance
Finding exact data on recidivism rates is difficult, as each measuring stick is slightly different and takes slightly different factors into consideration. However, each state self-reports its recidivism statistics, and the Mercury has done its best to ensure the statistics below represent the numbers most commonly reported.
The three-year recidivism rate in South Carolina is 24.5 percent. This is one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country — and data released in July of 2021 shows the percent has dropped to 21.9 percent.
Delaware reports the highest rate at 64.5 percent.
The lowest is Virginia, reporting an average of 23.4 percent, although designation as “lowest” may now belong to the Palmetto State.
State-to-state comparisons show few patterns or expected stereotypes — some of the most successful states are deep red conservative, and some of the least successful are states considered to take a far more progressive approach to criminal justice. Of the two most successful states, S.C. is deep red, while Virginia is mostly blue.
Virtually every report on S.C.’s success attributes it to reforms instituted by the Department of Corrections and ex-offender support programs like Shield Ministries. Something is obviously working, as in 2007 S.C.’s rate was 33.5 percent.