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United Methodist-related ministry focuses on 'Life After Prison'

 


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March 26, 2004

By Nancye Willis*

Just because Jack Odo lives in paradise doesn't mean he hasn't had his share of problems. Addiction to drugs and a fast lifestyle landed him in jail instead of on the beautiful beaches of Honolulu. 

He was able to shake his drug habit, but moving back into mainstream society after his release proved to be almost as difficult as doing time. His new freedom opened up a new search for meaning in his life. "I tried everything. I couldn't find answers," he says. "Back out on the streets, I was nothing. I wasn't loved by anyone."

Then Odo came upon "The First LAP" (Life After Prison), an innovative effort related to Honolulu's Pacific Islanders United Methodist Church. "I needed a structured program to deal with my addiction and I found this program that is based on Christian principles," Odo recalls.

Matthew Taufetee, a businessman who also serves the church as an associate pastor, founded the nonprofit organization in 2002. Taufetee was highlighted in a recent "Pacific Business News" special report offering insights into how Honolulu businesses and communities can help addicts help themselves turn away from drugs.

"Our program is a transitional stage to help build them spiritually, to help them with their addiction and eliminate the revolving door," Taufetee told reporter Debbie Sokei in September.

"A lot of times the guys being paroled are going straight back home to where the problem originated," he continued. That's what he hopes The First LAP can help avoid.

Taufetee has a firsthand understanding of the problems related to drug addiction. In a land of endless summer, "ice" became his big problem when he was just a teenager.

His addiction to crystal methamphetamine almost destroyed his life. Still in the process of recovery, Taufetee credits his church and family with helping him stay on track, but he knows not everyone has that kind of support.

The men at The First LAP are assigned regular chores at the residence and are asked to volunteer at area food banks. "The approach we are showing these clients is love, care, respect," Taufetee says.
Part of that caring attitude includes requiring them to stay clean. Random drug tests ensure that residents remain drug-free.

In addition, "we go to substance-abuse meetings. We have chemistry education," Odo notes. A psychologist visits weekly for impromptu counseling sessions, and clients attend church services twice a week.

The program operates on a shoestring budget, aided by Minority Group Self-determination grants. The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race has provided the grants for the past three years and was the program's initial grantor.

Taufetee sometimes chips in his own money, and the Pacific Islanders congregation hosted a fund-raising event in early October that brought in additional funds to help support the effort.

Once they are employed, residents pay $375 a month for room and board, money that goes back into the program to help new residents.

The dorm-like residence isn't fancy, but it keeps the men off the streets and provides them with a bed, food and hot shower. It has helped more than 100 men find jobs and has provided transportation back and forth to work.

"The United Methodist Church," Odo says, "cares about people. I feel safe here because it's a place I know I am welcome."

More information on the Minority Group Self-determination grants is available at the Commission on Religion and Race Web site, www.gcrr.org.

* Willis is editor for the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.  News media can contact Linda Green at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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