A collaboration of hundreds of community ministries, thousands of local churches, and more than 25 national faith-based organizations is headed to the Panhandle, Aug. 6-14 to visit 30,000 inmates in 51 Northwest Florida adult and juvenile correctional facilities.
Operation Starting Line, a national prison outreach, will launch the week's events with the its Break the Cycle Tour, during which motorcyclists will ride their Harleys from Rivertown Community Church in North Blountstown to two correctional facilities (ACI West in Sneads and Liberty Correctional Institution in Bristol) in support of Operation Starting Line.
Following the Break the Cycle Tour, hundreds of Panhandle residents will participate in high-energy in-prison kick-off events Aug. 6-14, introducing some 30,000 northwest Florida inmates to the life-skills, spiritual, and educational training that will be available to them on an ongoing basis through Operation Starting Line partners during the coming months.
Before joining Operation Starting Line, one member, Florida resident Stephanie Miller was not unlike the two thirds of prisoners in America who are released from prison each year and make return trips behind bars. Miller made the return trip to prison four times.
At the age of 13, Miller began drinking and doing drugs, and by the time she was 15 years old, she was in a motorcycle gang and soon after in a destructive relationship with a narcotics smuggler. By the time she was 25 years old, Miller was on the streets in Brevard County, Fla., where she spent the next 12 years in a life of prostitution, drugs, and violence. At the age of 33, after being arrested 52 times and serving four prison sentences, Miller made a decision while in prison that changed her life and impacted the lives of hundreds of other women.
“If I had not found faith in prison, I would probably be dead or serving a life sentence,” said Miller, who now works with Operation Starting Line to bring a life-changing message of hope to inmates across the country. Released in 1995, she is now helping others to break out of their destructive lifestyles by speaking to prisoners across the country and running a drug rehabilitation center in Florida.
According to national studies 67 percent of released inmates will commit another offense that leads to re-arrest within three years. Operation Starting Line is based on proven research showing that faith-based prison programs have a significant impact in reducing the number of inmates who will return to prison after their release.
Operation Starting Line, launched on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000, at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Del., is designed to help reduce recidivism rates by offering prisoners in America an opportunity for spiritual growth (a change of heart), practical education (a change of mind), and ongoing mentoring (a change of life). Operation Starting Line has reached more than 500,000 inmates through more than 2,250 in-prison events at 659 correctional facilities in 21 states since its launch on Easter 2000.
In April 2005, Operation Starting Line will begin programming in Florida’s Region III (central) facilities, and in Region II (northeast) facilities in August 2005, reaching an estimated 93,000 inmates in 282 correctional facilities by the end of 2005. Its goal is to introduce the program to every state and federal prison in America.