Presbyterian Church Launches Adopt a Prison Program

Operation Neighborhood dropping off supplies Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities Source: Presbyterian Mission

If a highway can be adopted, why not a prison?

That’s exactly what Dr. Hans Hallundbaek pondered before eventually becoming the director of the nonprofit Interfaith Prison Partnership (IPP), an outreach of the Hudson River Presbytery, in Katonah, New York.

“A highway belongs to the state, and they have a tough time keeping it clean; so, if the community wants to make the community nice, they help clean up the highway. It’s a community reaching out in its own self-interest,” Hallundbaek said in an interview with the Presbyterian News Service. “It’s exactly the same with a prison to say, ‘We’ll come and support you.’ Then it’s not a church thing. It’s a community thing, and ‘community’ is a church thing anyway.”

Hallundbaek, born and raised in Denmark, served as pastor for the Croton Falls Presbyterian Church in Croton Falls, New York, before retiring in 2018 to focus on the work of IPP. He and his wife, Katherine, both left successful jobs in the business world when each felt a call to prison ministry.

“I bet you Jesus worked with the poor and the downtrodden and the widows and the children, and so on, because it gave him joy,” Hallundbaek said. “He didn’t say, ‘Oh, I am a good man, I have to go in and do this good stuff.’ No, he did it because he gave them joy, and they gave it back to him.”

In 2017, Hallundbaek and his colleagues started a two-year plan to Adopt-A-Prison in the town of Bedford, New York, north of New York City. The town hall launch event, held in fall 2019, was attended by more than 100 community members and in January 2020, the Bedford Town Board unanimously approved the creation of a Prison Relations Advisory Committee (PRAC).

Through an outreach initiative called Operation Neighborhood, items such as toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and underwear, were brought to the women of Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities.

One inmate wrote, “I broke into tears when I got a piece of soap because I realized that somebody was reaching out to me.”

Her thank you note was shared with those who donated the soap, and more tears were shed, establishing a sacred connection, a bridge between people who have never met. “It can hardly be more Gospel than that,” Hallundbaek said.

Source: Presbyterian Mission