Jesus in the Jailhouse

Excerpt from Dallas Observer article click her for full article….Dallas Observer 

“The interview now over, the prisoner gathers his personal documents and stuffs them back in the plastic sack on his lap. The man behind the desk rises to shake his hand. “We’ll talk soon,” he says.

His name is Michael Jarmon. He is tall, bald and walks with a bit of a limp—the result of bad knees, he says. Once a month, maybe more, Jarmon, a full-time IFI employee, comes to the prison to meet with men from the Dallas area who are a few months shy of release. He finds an empty office at the prison, sets up his laptop and goes to work.

One by one, the prisoners Jarmon has selected for the day’s interviews come to see him. One has a tattoo of his daughter’s name inscribed on his neck. Another shows Jarmon pictures of his grandchildren. One he will meet today has 10 children from eight women. The men talk to Jarmon as if he is an old friend. He teases, he scolds and he encourages.

At one point, he tells a prisoner to drop and give him 25 push-ups. The prisoner stares back at him, unsure what to say or do. And then Jarmon cracks a smile, and the room erupts in laughter.

For Jarmon this is a job, but it’s also personal. At 18, he was arrested on a felony robbery conviction. Thanks to help from friends, he never served jail time on that conviction, and he stayed away from trouble from that point on. “I had someone to step in and help me out, show me a better way,” he says. Now he’s trying to do the same.

Jarmon is a re-entry specialist, and his job is to make sure “his guys,” as he calls them, have a job, a place to go, a mentor and a church upon release. No other prison in Texas has an equivalent program.

“I got a guy,” Jarmon says, turning the page on his yellow legal pad. “He used to work as a butcher, so I’m trying to get him on at this sausage plant. If we can get that set up, he’s on his way.”

Jarmon has built a network in the Dallas area of employers, churches and community organizations willing to help IFI parolees. They range from Bishop T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House to a small restaurant near the Dallas Police Department headquarters that has hired IFI participants.

“Say a guy gets out and he’s going to Fort Worth. He needs a place to stay and some clothes. I take care of it. I know churches where he can go to get clothes, places he can get groceries.

“I go around to businesses, I say, ‘This is my guy, he’s a felon, but he’s a good guy. He has a mentor, he has a parole officer, he has to be at work on time, he has to be drug-tested. Give him a chance.'”

Jarmon calls in the next inmate. His name is Paul Johnson, he is 51, and he is from South Dallas. He is a heavy-set man with thick arms and a double chin. His fingernails could use clipping. Like Richards, he is missing a few teeth.

His bio goes like this: Father was a truck driver, mother worked two jobs. Pretty much raised himself, he says. At the age of 18, he robbed a bank. He did six years on a 25-year sentence, went through “a good dry season” and then got caught up on parole violations. In total, he has been in prison five times.

“I chose a crooked path to follow: the life of drugs, the life of crime,” he says in his deep baritone. “If I could do it all over again, there are things I would change.” “