Tweets gave EthicsDaily.com readers and Twitter followers an inside look at the premiere screening of a new documentary on prisons and faith, held on Feb. 17 at Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.
“Great crowd awaiting the release of film, ‘Through the Door,'” tweeted Ken Kessler, Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s team leader for empowering leaders about the morning gathering.
Cliff Vaughn, co-producer of the documentary, tweeted, “Fantastic turnout,” after an earlier tweet about more chairs being setup for the screening.
During the viewing of the short version of the documentary, Twitter users made a number of observations about the film.
“Wow!” Kessler tweeted, responding to a documentary interviewee who said that the United States incarcerated more people than China and Russia.
Robert McClintock wrote, “Prisons are the largest repository for persons with mental health issues.”
“Drug addiction is the largest reason for crime. Substance abuse issues are growing,” tweeted Kessler, as the documentary explored some of the contributing causes for incarceration.
Both Kessler and David Washburn, treasurer for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, noted one of the documentary themes – how “messy and difficult” prison ministry is.
“Learned the typical incarceration affects 5 more family members…sobering,” wrote David Benjamin, pastor of Winfree Memorial Baptist Church in Midlothian, Va.
After the documentary was screened, Vaughn, media producer for EthicsDaily.com, moderated a panel discussion.
Panelists included Travis Collins, pastor at Bon Air Baptist Church; Randy Myers, president of Chaplain Service Prison Ministry of Virginia Inc.; and Christine Eacho, manager of Reentry Special Projects for the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC).
“Collins shares that the real heroes are people who began ministry for church twenty-five years ago!” wrote Kessler about Bon Air Baptist Church, noted for its long-standing and substantive prison ministry programs.
“The balance of grace and responsibility is a tough dance,” Washburn credited Collins with underscoring.
“Panelist says issue and documentary aren’t political. Re-entry isn’t Republican or Democratic,” tweeted Vaughn.
Megan-Drew Tiller, a resident of the Grace-on-the-Hill Episcopal Service Corps, and others, made a similar note.
“Re-entry is not political. It is a process of meeting people where they are and trying to meet their needs,” said Tiller
She later wrote that the Virginia Department of Corrections “cannot operate in a vacuum, and they are working with resources and organizations around the state.”
Washburn tweeted that the department was in the “reentry business and works with and needs partners.”
Kessler noted the “dearth of faith based organizations in our state that operate as halfway houses and reentry issues! Funding is very hard!”
Joining Collins and Myers on the evening panel was Scott Richeson, director of VDOC’s re-entry initiative through offender programming and services.
While the evening session drew fewer tweets, one was theologically sharp-edged.
“How often do we take communion because Jesus told us to? How often do we visit those in prison because Jesus told us to?” asked Jim Somerville, pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.
His question came after he had tweeted, “I’ve been reminded once again that Jesus wants us to visit those who are in prison, and proclaim release to the captives.”
Reaction to the documentary among Twitterers was enthusiastic.
“A great film on inmates and re-entering former offenders,” said Lisa Kratz Thomas, prison reform activist and professional speaker.
Benjamin called the documentary “insightful.”
Lauren McDuffie tweeted, “I’m excited for the release of #throughthedoor and continuing conversations about faith and the prison system.”
Editor’s note: To order “Through the Door” – EthicsDaily.com’s newly released documentary on faith and prisons – click here.
The documentary explores the initiatives of churches and faith-based organizations in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Interviewees speak to the issues of prescription drug abuse, addiction, mental health, the role of religious volunteers and chaplains, and the often-overlooked stresses of prison officials.