“If you ain’t where you are, you’re nowhere.”
Many of the incarcerated youth in Northeast Ohio correctional facilities feel like they are living nowhere, out of the only homes they have ever known, and into a jail cell. And what they leave behind may be the streets, a “nowhere” place where no one wants to be.
This is the reality that True North Prison Ministry seeks to change. Armed with the truth of God’s Word, the Gospel compels and propels their 200+ volunteers as they minister to youth behind the walls of area correctional facilities. In addition to ongoing Bible studies, various programs are brought inside the prisons, including the ever-popular Christmas parties. Attendance at Bible studies is always voluntary, but most of the youth choose to go.
With a vision of liberating imprisoned youth, this organic ministry has but one staff member, Dave Duffey. Dave oversees all the operational duties and volunteer scheduling at the True North headquarters, located on a small farm south of Akron. He also takes a hands-on approach to speaking truth to the incarcerated youth who are permitted (with a guard) weekly visits to the farm. Dave has been involved since 2005 when the founder of the ministry did a presentation at his church and explained how people could help.
“I felt God’s calling to work with at-risk and incarcerated youth and have been doing so ever since.”
True North ministers to young women too but only young men come to the farm. They are permitted if they are a Level Four, which means they have a high school diploma or GED, and have displayed good behavior.
It’s not so much a farm as an oasis, especially to the youth who haven’t seen much outside of the concrete and mortar of inner-city life. Miniature donkeys graze on the sloping acreage and, each year, Dave has the young men help him till the soil for a vegetable garden. The guys get to experience the whole process from preparing the soil to reaping the harvests (and having some good grub).
Volunteers also come to the farm to teach skills to the young men. Animal husbandry (in addition to the donkeys, the farm has chickens and bees), small machine maintenance and repair, building construction, and woodworking are the mainstays of vocational training for them. Four days each week, Dave and a handful of godly men gently share Christ and His wisdom with them as they teach. There’s even a barn cat named Gracie who, when she’s not sleeping or on mouse patrol, insists on visiting with the young guys.
Dave spoke about how hard it is to reach today’s youth, especially in the prison environment. “The greatest challenges I see when reaching out to the youth are the worldly influences of secular hip hop music and materialism. They also receive many different points of view from staff at the [prison] facilities that really confuse and mislead them.”
Testimonies are bountiful, but there are some that are more memorable to Dave. “A young man named John, while still incarcerated, prayed for salvation with one of our volunteers. He came to our facility for about two years while still incarcerated. He was originally from western Ohio but his family life was pretty shaky, so he moved to the Akron area upon release and married a nice young lady. He now manages a retail store and is doing well.”
For those who have interest, Dave mentioned some specific ways people can help: “The greatest needs of the ministry are probably the same as most ministries. We need more financial support. We also need people who can work with the youth at our facility doing yard work and building maintenance. We also need people to minister at the Summit County Detention center in our programs there.”
In addition to ongoing donations from individuals, groups, and organizations, True North has an annual banquet and fundraiser. Woodworking crafts made by the youth are often on display and sold at the event. This year’s celebration is Tuesday, April 9. Information can be found on their website, http://www.truenorthministry.org.