More than 3,000 men and women are released from prison into Travis County every year. Statistics predict that 70 percent of them will return to prison within three years. Texas Reach Out Ministries (TROM), an organization that provides housing and Christ-centered guidance to former inmates, aims to do better. More than 2,000 men and women have graduated from Texas Reach Out since it opened its doors in 2000. Through volunteering with TROM’s female clients, Covenant member Allison Laymon has been deeply impacted.
Allison first learned about TROM after she watched a Reel Ministry movie three summers ago and has since served as a mentor and a Bible study leader. “Letting the women of Texas Reach Out know we care what happens to them and want to walk through life with them is huge,” said Allison. “Being a positive influence in their lives can make all the difference in the world.
“Everybody needs a kind word and a hug, especially those that have been out of society for a while and want to get on with their lives,” she said. “I think the most important thing we can do is show God’s love to these women, and pray with them and for them.”
What is Texas Reach Out Ministry?
David and Margie Pena started providing transitional housing to ex-prisoners in 2000 when they purchased the first house with their own money. Today, TROM has eight residential homes, five for men and three for women. Clients must apply, a process that includes a psychological test, questions about their past drug use, work and family history and two pages about their relationship with Christ.
If accepted, TROM clients — with little or not money or possessions — are picked up at the bus station and brought to their home. Immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter are provided along with ID, medical and bus cards.
“To be released on parole, a prisoner needs a place to go,” explained Scott Moore, who serves as the Covenant liaison to TROM. “Some can’t go home because they are not wanted; some can’t go home because home would be a speedy ticket to parole violations and a trip back to the pen.”
Texas Reach Out clients are required to work and to pay rent, Scott said. “They receive training and assistance to find a job. They attend church, Bible studies and recovery-themed events on a regular basis, and are required to be drug and alcohol free. TROM’s goal is to provide discipling and mentoring to all residents.”
Between 90 and 100 men and women go through the Texas Reach Out program each year with a graduation rate of 74 percent, which means that the participants leave the program working full-time, using no drugs or alcohol, living in stable housing and staying crime-free.
Allison Gets Involved
After signing up to help at TROM, Allison said she simply showed up. Jan Skaggs, Ann Wheeler and Paige Harris invited her to come to a meeting and see what it was like. Allison immediately became a mentor and hasn’t looked back.
Over her three-year tenure, Allison has mentored several women. “I don’t pretend to understand where they are coming from,” she said. “My last mentee was just overwhelmed. When I suggested that she start making lists and get a planner, she looked at me like I was from another planet. I got her a planner and told her how to use it, and then she asked, ‘What if I don’t get it all done?’ One girl didn’t know how to turn on a stove. Many of these women have never had an apartment, never paid rent or owned furniture. They are still in survival mode.”
Allison said the stories are heartbreaking, explaining that it’s hard for the women to open a bank account;schools reject them because of their criminal background, their boyfriends try to steal their money. “The stigma is so huge. There are so many little things that you can’t even imagine. Most don’t have an ID. They have no idea how to manage money.”
Allison said they meet additional obstacles at every turn. They have probation and restitution costs, they have parole costs, and sometimes child support and student loan costs. “They do the best they can, and their struggles are real,” Allision said. “To see them and their faith is very heartwarming. To see what they have to go through and yet, they still continue on their walk with God.”
Allison had to move from mentoring to leading a Bible study because of her schedule. She really likes mentoring, though, and hopes to get back to that. “The first woman I mentored transitioned out and we still have contact with each other,” Allison said. “In fact, I went over for dinner last Sunday. We just keep in touch and I continue to pray for her and her husband and baby. She’s trying to get visitation rights with her two older children. It’s very hard to get it back.”
During her time volunteering with TROM, Allison has seen many women both succeed and fail. A key to success, she’s observed, is that those who make it have some sort of support from family. “The women who are successful have monetary and emotional support; they get encouragement from family and friends. Ellen moved in with her son and daughter-in-law. Stephanie’s dad bought her a used car. They have good relationships with their families. They have some sort of support system that wants to be in their life.”
“Being a felon in today’s society is a stigma that these women carry around for the rest of their lives,” Allison said. “It doesn’t matter how far they come or go,
…it never goes away. When you volunteer for this ministry, you really get to know the people and their stories. They become real people and not statistics.
“Even on a bad day, most of us don’t have to work at menial jobs in our 30’s or 40’s, ride the bus two hours each way just to get to your jobs, and home at some point to transition out of TROM into an apartment that is NOT restricted because of the past. These women face obstacles every day that we cannot imagine. Walking side-by-side in their faith journey has been one of the most rewarding and heartwarming journeys I have been on.”
Covenant leads the TROM women’s Bible study the fourth Thursday of every month. TROM volunteer opportunities can be found on the Covenant website.
“I guarantee you will be glad you became a part of this ministry,” Allison said. “I love getting to know the ladies and hear how they are changing their lives. Some of them leave the program, but you have to have faith that God has a plan for them, and any seed you can plant about His eternal love will follow them wherever they go.”
Learn more about TROM: