Christian prisoner reform group eyes Dayton’s Bluff location

Freedom Works, a Christian non-profit that does post-prison programming is looking to add housing and programming for 24 men in a building in Dayton’s Bluff. The building, located at 869 5th St. E. is a former convent near Sacred Heart Church and is owned by Catholic Charities. (Patrick Larkin/Review)
Freedom Works, a Christian non-profit that does post-prison programming is looking to add housing and programming for 24 men in a building in Dayton’s Bluff. The building, located at 869 5th St. E. is a former convent near Sacred Heart Church and is owned by Catholic Charities. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Freedom Works eyeing former convent on Fifth St.

A Christian non-profit providing programming and long-term housing for men after they get out of prison is looking to add a location on the East Side.

Freedom Works, a Minneapolis-based organization, has applied for a conditional use permit to use the building at 869 E. Fifth St. as housing for about 24 men.

The building is a former convent from the adjacent Sacred Heart Church and it sits right next to the public charter school Twin Cities Academy, which was once the church’s school building.

Applying for the permit is an initial step the company needs to take to verify that the building can be used as Freedom Works would like it to be — the organization has not yet purchased the building.

Executive director George Lang said the 12-year-old organization has a good standing in the community in North Minneapolis where it currently houses 12 men. He attributes that to the men’s dedication to reform, and to their faith.

But they’re hoping to expand the scope of what they do, and provide more men with faith-based post-prison programming. So, they submitted a letter of intent to purchase to the building owner, Catholic Charities, and are now seeking approval from the St. Paul to use the building for programming and housing for men who’ve been recently released from prison.

Good neighbors in Minneapolis

Deanna Foster, director of the Dayton’s Bluff District Council, said her organization is looking forward to meeting with Freedom Works representatives next week.

She added that the district council is hoping to avoid a knee-jerk reaction from neighbors.

“We’re going to meet with [Freedom Works], and then we’ll introduce a public meeting,” she said.

Roberta Englund, director of the Folwell Neighborhood Association, a neighborhood near the Minneapolis Freedom Works site, said the organization has been a good neighbor.

“There have been no issues,” she said, adding that Freedom Works has had a residential facility in the neighborhood since 2004.

She said the organization has done community outreach and held public barbecues on the property.

She added that she hopes the Freedom Works facility for ex-offenders is well received should it end up moving into Dayton’s Bluff.

“I hope that there is not an implicit resistance to [Freedom Works] ... because their services are needed.”

Mary Maas works at Amicus, a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization that helps inmates and ex-offenders connect with resources such as jobs and housing. Mass said Amicus has a good partnership with Freedom Works.

In particular, she praised Freedom Works’ use of mentorship programs, where men in recovery have a mentor guiding them through the process.

“That’s one of the key pearls of Freedom Works,” she said.

Amicus often refers clients to Freedom Works, and Maas said she would “give them a glowing report.”

Staff from Twin Cities Academy, the next-door neighbors to the empty former convent, did not respond to a request for comment. The school was on spring break at that time.

Sheriff weighs in

Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom said he’s worked with Freedom Works before.

“I came away with a very favorable impression,” he said, noting that they have a good track record at reducing recidivism. Freedom Works participants recidivate at a rate of only 4 percent.

“That’s a good track record,” he said, “I don’t know what program can match something like that.”

He said the organization has a good screening process to ensure program members are suitable.

Bostrom, who lives near Swede Hollow Park, said he would have no concerns with the organization in the neighborhood. In fact, he said he’d live next door to them.

Plus, he said, it sure beats having a vacant building.

Not just a halfway house

Lang said that it’s easy to have the impression that the organization is simply another halfway house, but insists it’s more intensive and long term than a halfway house.

“You would think we’re just transitioning men out of prison... that’s not what we do,” he said. “We’re very, very selective on who we let into the program. We’re looking for a few good men.”

To complete the program, men are required to spend at least nine months at the facility, and often end up staying a year or longer.

There, the men work on career development, computer training and personal relationships. They’re required to hold full-time jobs and have a fairly regimented evening schedule.

They attend weekly Bible studies and 12-step recovery groups while also participating in community service and collaborations with Twin Cities churches.

Participants also attend worship services regularly.

Low recidivism

Lang pointed out that people are already coming to Dayton’s Bluff and other locations from prison. The difference with Freedom Works, he said, is that those men do not end up committing other crimes once they’re out — instead, they’re focused on lives of service. And, he adds, they’re men who have actively sought out participation in the program.

“We’re not looking to work with every guy coming out of prison,” he said.

Though the organization provides housing, the focus isn’t simply giving the men a place to live, but rather to give them a solid foundation from which to find work, and build themselves up.

He points out that the recidivism rate among participants in Freedom Works is around 4 percent, versus much higher national recidivism rates. The national three-year recidivism rate is roughly 40 percent, and the five-year rate is about 75 percent, according to the National Institute of Justice.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.                   

                                                     

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