Prison ministry connects inmates with Christmas cards
By CLAYTON OVER
The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
SOUTH ABINGTON TOWNSHIP (AP) — It started with one 4-by-6-inch card four years ago.
Since then, Julie Overholser and her husband, Jamie, have overseen sending Christmas cards and other mail to hundreds of inmates in more than 20 prison facilities across the country through a prison ministry called Bound Together.
“I feel like we are, in some ways, in our very small way here, challenging people to think beyond the prison bars, to say these are people just like you and me,” Mrs. Overholser said.
Bound Together falls under the umbrella of Mr. Overholser’s faith-based nonprofit, the Jacob Institute. The idea of starting a prison ministry was never part of the plan until prisons hit a little closer to home a few years ago.
“We had a good friend four years ago who found himself in a bit of trouble, and it rocked our world,” said Mr. Overholser, who is also pastor at the Crossroads Church in Clarks Summit.
Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Overholser, a photographer, made that initial card. She typed a Bible verse over one of her photos — she calls such images WORDpictures — and mailed it to the family friend to inspire him while he was imprisoned.
Shortly thereafter, the idea for Bound Together — the name comes from a Bible verse, Hebrews 13:3, which reads, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” — came together. In 2013, they and members of their church sent the first batch of Christmas cards to 26 men incarcerated in Lackawanna County Prison and another county jail. That number increased to 106 the next year, and Bound Together now mails to 28 county, state and federal correctional facilities across 11 states.
“The response we got back was overwhelming,” Mrs. Overholser said, adding that the majority of responses they get from inmates express feelings of having been forgotten.
One wrote that he had not received a letter, let alone a Christmas card, in decades.
“Love does for the heart what no correctional facility will ever be able to accomplish: save and change lives! That’s what your involvement in my life means to me. It enforces hope,” read a portion of another response.
Today, the ministry has expanded and regularly corresponds with about 160 inmates, with most inmates learning of the ministry through word of mouth inside prison walls or from Their family members contacting the Overholsers on the outside.
They also have started mailing to female prisoners for the first time. And Mrs. Overholser puts together a yearly publication called “Wisdom, Discipline and Understanding” — which features monthly calendars, journal space, faith-based articles and her photography — to send to inmates. The Overholsers have also assisted a handful of men locally with re-entry after their release from prison.
Bound Together will send out this year’s batch of Christmas cards, complete with WORDpictures, about Dec. 15. Anyone who would like to contribute to or learn more about Bound Together can do so by visiting the Jacob Institute website at www.jacob.institute.