Lydia House Provides Transition From Jail

Posted on April 24, 2013


By David Ettinger

It is a cold fact of post-jail life: Once inmates are released, too often they are left on their own. Sometimes they are released in the middle of the night with no one to greet them and nowhere to go. It is no wonder many former inmates find themselves incarcerated again a short time later.

First Orlando is tackling this very real problem head-on by providing a place for these “released” women to go. Lydia House is a transitional home where women can reside from six to nine months until they are ready to play an active role in society.

It is an idea whose time is definitely overdue. “When women are released and go back into society, unless they have a different situation to go to, they’re right back in that environment that is conducive to what put them in jail,” said Jennifer Adamson, First Orlando’s Director of Women’s Ministries. “In many ways, it’s a battle of survival. They go right back into that old lifestyle and it’s a cycle.”

The goal now is to end that cycle. “Lydia House will provide a new place, a new environment, to break that pattern of going back to their old life,” Jennifer said. “The women who will be invited to participate in the Lydia House will be those who have committed their lives to Christ and demonstrated a desire for a changed lifestyle. They will make a commitment to follow the guidelines and responsibilities required to be a resident of the Lydia House.”

The Lydia House as an advisory board in place made up various women who have a passion for this kind of rehabilitation outreach. In addition, according to Missions Pastor Bill Mitchell, “Lydia House is a joint effort between the Missions Office and the Women’s Jail Ministry.”

First Orlando member Christina LeBarron is working with both ministries to help make Lydia House a reality. “When women are released from jail [in this case, the 33rd Street Jail], it is pretty much, ‘Bye-bye, have a nice day,’ ” Christina said. “We want to give these women a specific place to go.”

First Orlando members Nancy Maguire and Annette Birdsong, who have worked long and effectively in First Orlando’s women’s jail ministry, will be recommending the women they feel best qualify for residence in the Lydia House.

Lydia House will have room for four women and a “house mom,” someone to spiritually nurture and love these women who are looking for a new lease on life. “We’re working on a specific daily program for the women,” Christina explained. “The program will be biblically based. We will be leading women through the ‘Breaking Free’ Bible study by Beth Moore; the Crown Financial study so they can learn life skills; and helping them with resumés and interviewing.”

Christina added that some of the women will be faced with the additional challenge of having children who are either in foster homes or DCF (the Florida Department of Children and Families) custody. Another Lydia House ministry focus will help women deal with these challenges. “We will work with the First Life Center for Pregnancy’s Hope Program and help women who need post-abortion counseling.”

More than anything, the women of Lydia House will learn about growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ. “We will show them how to make John 3:16 personal,” Christina said. “The  realization that their lives have worth and value will encourage them to push on and run the race.”

Of course, training these women will require a strong leader. “The house mom certainly can’t be a pushover,” Christina said. “She has to be tough, but also compassionate. Ideally, she will be single, and of course, a  loving Christian.”

The Lydia House ministry will be divided into three phases. The first is probationary. “The women will go through a period of time where they get to prove that they are willing to follow the rules. This phase is called ‘Looking Up at Christ and Looking In.’ It will allow the women to look inside themselves and discover why they made the choices they made. It’s about taking responsibility and not falling into a ‘victim mentality’.”

The second phase of the Lydia House program is “Looking Up and Looking Out.” “We will do spiritual-gift testing and get the ladies involved in serving,” Christina said.

The third phase is “Looking Up and Looking Ahead.” That’s where the job skills and resumé building come in. “So, as you can see, the program is very structured and more than just giving women a place to live,” Christina said, adding that there will be set rules and curfews the women will be required to follow.

For now, Lydia House is starting off relatively small — one house, four women — but Christina envisions a day when the ministry will grow. “I pray this is the start of something very big that God will do. In a year or so, I would love to see two houses, with our current house being a ‘graduate’ house. This would be a home where the women who come through the program can go — a home without a house mom — and begin the full transition into independent living.”

Caption: Christina LeBarron

Christina also wants to start a transitional home for men. “After all, men in jail drastically outnumber women. There is a desperate need of transitional homes for men.”

The Lydia House ministry also includes the conversion of the former Pregnancy Center building into a thrift store. “This will give the women a place to work and learn important skills and to serve,” Christina said. “It will also give the people of First Orlando the opportunity to serve the ministry by volunteering at the thrift store. And, of course, the store will also provide funds for Lydia House.”

Christina realizes that as necessary as planning and preparation are, it can only go so far. “If Christ is not at the center of this ministry, the women will not have the longevity in walking a renewed life. Christ must be present in everything.”