Religious groups team up to help York County convicts succeed after prison

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Matt Carey, manager of the Spiritual Life Recovery Program for York Rescue Mission, talks about the past six years of his work and promotion of recycling that has cut down on waste and related costs at the store in York, Pa. on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Carey says that before breaking down items and recycling individual parts, the mission would get only a low bulk rate for the wares. Now individual components are recycled and can be re-purposed. Dawn J. Sagert - dsagert@yorkdispatch.com

Coping while in prison is difficult, but re-entering society afterward can be even harder. That's why two organizations are working together to help with both scenarios in York County.

Matthew Carey, CEO of LifePath Christian Ministries in York County, and the Rev. Dan Katz, director of chaplains for Virginia-based Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, have been friends since Carey joined LifePath three years ago.

As the friendship grew, so did the realization that they could join forces for those who have been incarcerated.

"We wanted to work with men and women on the inside of the prison and work with LifePath to help with re-entry," Katz said. "Re-entry is one of the most important issues."  

LifePath opened in 1962 and tends to the homeless population in the county. The program has 14 facilities and serves about 30,000 people annually, but most services take place in York City, Carey said. 

Good News opened in 1961 and places chaplains in jails and prisons worldwide to tend to the needs of inmates and staff. The program serves 350,000  and has two chaplains in the county, Katz said.

Team effort: As a team, the two nonprofit organizations are helping convicts find help behind bars and lead a healthy life once they are freed.

In York County, there are 2,300 inmates in the county prison at any given time, and it costs roughly $23,000 annually to hold each inmate, Katz said.

The men say the partnership can be a win-win: fewer people returning to jail and less money coming from the taxpayers' pockets.

They started the program one year ago. As of June, there were 32 people housed in LifePath shelters through the joint program.

That's the maximum the organizations' staffs can handle, but Carey said he expects more workers will join the program, allowing it to help more people.

Katz partially attributed the success of the joint program to their friendship and shared vision.

"When you meet someone like Matt, there's a friendship to begin with because our hearts are in the same place," he said. "Our goals are the same as well. We just want to see men and women transform from the inside out." 

The first step: Katz said the process begins by engaging individuals in prison.


"Our chaplains go in there and work one-on-one with the individuals," he said. "They also do group meetings, and from those multiple avenues we identify men and women who then qualify for LifePath's program."

The organization often serves as the “humanitarian provider and the spiritual lifelines for inmates," according to the website. Aid includes providing inmates with food, clothing, health care and spiritual guidance.

After the organization works with the inmates and builds a relationship, a "warm send-off occurs," Carey said.

"Good News' team develops the relationship while they're in prison and finds out why they are incarcerated," he said. "Because of them, we already have information about the individual, and therefore a relationship is already being developed."

There is always a clear line of communication between the two organizations for information sharing about individuals, he added.

The second step: Once released, the individual is admitted into LifePath's "life transformation program," which includes housing, counseling and  Bible study as well as  social and recreational opportunities.

"The program is really robust," Carey said. "For many of them, it's the most extensive (program) they've ever been in in their lives."

The "case management intensive" program puts participants through a series of "life skill development lessons," where they are taught basic skills for life outside of prison, such as how to open a checking account, financial budgeting and handling costs associated with the prison system.

Bible-based classes are offered as well, which include conflict-resolution practice and help with identifying self value. 

"We're really digging into the reason for why they're incarcerated," Carey said. "I don't like to let them off the hook when they don't want to talk about it."

Volunteer Brandon McIntosh, of Gettysburg, walks out of LifePath Christian Ministries Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in York City. Late Wednesday night, the community lost longtime client Raymond Updegraff, who was killed while being struck by an unmarked police cruiser in East Manchester Township. Amanda J. Cain photo

Although Christian-based, the transformation doesn't require adherence to religion.

"We're not going to force anything down people's throats, but we're going to show them the life path that we walk," Carey said. "This is the way that we walk, and we're going to lead by example. Whether or not you follow is up to you."

The pair has seen several individuals get through the program and begin a new life with full-time jobs, Carey said. He did not wish to disclose any names for privacy purposes.