Reentry and Integration Division
Faith-based ministry leads prisoners from path of destruction
A CrossNet Ministry volunteer counsels male prisoners.
East Montgomery County Observer (TX)
By Stefanie Thomas, Reporter
Joe Broadhurst, a 63-year-old Atascocita resident who spends most of his time working as a project manager for a construction company, said he once felt about prison inmates the way he expects most people do: lock them up, and throw away the key. But that was about 20 years ago. And then he set out on a mission.
“I have since come to understand that these are people who made bad choices,” he said. “But they are redeemable.”
Since 1993, Broadhurst has visited area state jail facilities to help inmates understand that God loves and values even His black sheep, to guide them onto a productive path and teach life skills to individuals about to re-enter society.
Broadhurst serves as the vice president of CrossNet Ministry, an Humble-based charity organization that originally began as a small outreach group at Forest Cove Baptist Church in 1993. Presently, CrossNet Ministry is supported by about 50 active volunteers, many of them from the Humble, Kingwood and Atascocita areas.
Prison Ministry 101
“We go into the state jails and penitentiaries to conduct life skill and bible discipleship programs, and marriage seminars,” Broadhurst said. “We also have an Encouragement Ministry, which translates to bringing cookies and sodas to correctional officers and prison staff once a week. They’re often an unappreciated bunch, and it helps them do their job when they feel someone does appreciate them.”
CrossNet serves inmates in medium-security facilities - burglars, thieves, and other men and women who committed crimes bad enough to land them in prison, but not so violent as to warrant maximum security. One of CrossNet’s main goals is to re-instill a sense of self-worth in the inmates.
“We want them to understand they still have a high value to God,” Broadhurst said, “and once they realize they have a higher value to God, they’ll have a higher value to society. Ninety-five percent of the inmates we minister to will be released at some point - we want them to be able to re-enter society as neighbors.”
For more than a decade, in many cases, CrossNet has spread its message of faith and redemption at Pam Lychner State Jail in Atascocita, Hightower Penitentiary in Dayton, Joe Kegans State Jail in downtown Houston, Harris County Jail, and the L.G. Plane State Jail for Women in Dayton on a weekly basis. At Pam Lychner State Jail, the ministry also conducts a special program for men, titled “Quest for authentic manhood.”
CrossNet’s success in leading inmates onto the right path is extraordinary:
“Our recidivism rate is 8 percent,” Broadhurst said, “compared to more than 60 percent among overall prison population.”
Broadhurst hesitated when asked what caused him to take a benevolent interest in prisoners 17 years ago.
“I’m not really sure,” he said. “The best I can say is it was a prompting by the Lord to me, personally.”
But he certainly knows what made him pursue the effort.
“It changes your life,” he said. “The biggest blessing is to see God work in peoples’ lives right in front of your eyes. It changes people.”
The most meaningful rewards, however, come in the form of witnessing a prison inmate turn his life around.
“That’s the most satisfying - to see someone accept the Lord, and for someone to come back after being released to let us know the ministry has changed his or her life,” he said. “That’s what keeps me excited.”
Broadhurst knows the ministry can’t reach everyone. Some inmates, he said, stop by to check out the programs out of curiosity. Others take advantage of the programs but have no real desire to change. But sometimes, attitudes change unexpectedly.
“It really is up to God,” he explained. “Our job is much like that of a farmer - we plant the seed, but it’s up to God to grow it. We really can’t change anyone’s life, only God can. But if you plant a seed in fertile soil, it will grow. And if someone is truly interested in changing, they have the programs available to them to begin that change.”
Broadhurst said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has recognized the results achieved by groups like CrossNet Ministry.
“TDCJ has an obligation to the public to incarcerate people in a safe way, and they take that obligation very seriously,” he said. “But in the last four to five years they have also become much more open to ministries like ours because they see it works.”
Earlier this year, Governor Rick Perry honored CrossNet with the Governor’s Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Award.
“It was very nice to be recognized, although we’re not doing the ministry for recognition,” Broadhurst said. “But it encourages our volunteers to know that someone appreciates their efforts.”
Volunteers CrossNet needs more of.
The organization doesn’t hold fundraisers, Broadhurst said, but is in need of more area residents willing to make a commitment and donate their time.
Until about three years ago, CrossNet offered a Welcome Back Program to prison inmates to prepare them for release.
“We met with every inmate within a week of his or her release to provide them with resources to use upon re-entering society,” Broadhurst said, adding that within about three years, between 2004 and 2007, the group counseled around 41,000 inmates on how to make a fresh start. “We talked to them about everything from getting a driver’s license, a place to live, employment...We had to discontinue the program due to a lack of volunteers.”
To find out more about CrossNet Ministry, or to volunteer, please contact Joe Broadhurst by calling (281) 540-2848 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.