Established Healing Communities, an organization that seeks to form effective prison ministries by strengthening the existing relationships and support structures in local congregations.
• Trained more than 1,000 congregations in restorative justice practices
• In 2014, the State of Georgia officially adopted the Healing Communities model as a focal point of its official strategy for reintegrating returning citizens into society
"Our mistakes do not define our lives. The gospel preaches forgiveness and redemption. Why should that not apply to those who have had contact with our nation’s justice system?”
The Reverend Dr. Harold Dean “Doc” Trulear began his career in the late 1970s as a support professional working with first-time juvenile offenders in Paterson, New Jersey. By his own admission, Paterson was a strange place for the young Morehouse graduate with a bachelor’s in classical music and contemplating a future in the church. However, it was Paterson that opened Dr. Trulear’s eyes to the inefficiencies that exist in communities ravaged by poverty, drugs and mass incarceration.
After Paterson, Dr. Trulear served as a pastor in Philadelphia before joining New York Theological Seminary, where he had the opportunity to teach inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. While at Sing Sing, Dr. Trulear came across similar circumstances that had plagued the juvenile offenders in Paterson, the most prevalent and heartbreaking of which was the absence of hope. The children of Paterson had seen poverty, drug abuse, and crime, but they couldn’t envision that there was more to the world, and this was no less true of the many inmates at Sing Sing. Many lacked understanding of how to access their aspirations and true potential, nor did they have the relationships that could foster such understanding. But in his classes, he saw something different. Inmates were alert, intelligent and filled with hope. “My students at Sing Sing refused to be defined by their past,” Trulear recalls. “They were looking to their future. And today, many are home, successful as pastors, non-profit executives and community leaders.”
Dr. Trulear believes the faith community should be invested in the quality of life of those who come in contact with the justice system—an investment that does not end when someone walks through the jailhouse gate. “Our goal is helping people move into a quality of life that is productive, manifests the greater good and reflects the true nature of redemption,” stated Dr. Trulear. “For someone to have a good quality of life, they need to have a vision for a world larger than the one they know.”
Fundamental to improving the quality of life of those who have had contact with the justice system is breaking the stigma of incarceration—something Dr. Trulear knows firsthand. Many would never guess that a man who earned a doctorate with distinction from Drew University was once known as inmate 10002648. “When I went to jail in my fifties, I didn’t want anyone to know I was at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Most of all, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was a pastor. But that all changed when I ended up incarcerated with several members of my congregation.”
His time in jail shaped his view that the faith community has to be better at reaching out to families who are left behind when a family member is incarcerated. “Whenever I walk into a congregation and talk about these issues I get one of two responses, (a) yes, we need help; or (b) there is no one in this church who has been to prison.” Dr. Trulear likes to note that in a nation where 65 million Americans have some sort of criminal history, the latter is nearly impossible. However, it outlines a larger problem existing in our society. If churches are to be support networks and communities where members can turn to when they fall on hard times, why is it that so few congregations are equipped to deal with the full effects of incarceration?
These experiences greatly influenced Dr. Trulear’s vision in establishing Healing Communities. The organization seeks to form effective prison ministries by strengthening the existing relationships and support structures in local congregations so returning citizens have opportunities to break the cycle of incarceration. “The problem is…most of our prison ministries do outreach to prisons, and not to persons. And half the persons that we reach out to are somebody else’s child, while we have mothers and fathers and grandparents that come to church every Sunday with incarcerated children that we’ve never dealt with,” Dr. Trulear stated to the Baptist Press in October of 2015.
Over the last decade, Healing Communities has trained over 1,000 congregations in restorative justice practices aimed at ministering to the incarcerated, supporting the families that have been left behind, and ensuring that returning citizens have a support network in place to break the cycle of incarceration. In 2014, Georgia recognized Dr. Trulear’s work by officially adopting the Healing Communities model as a focal point of its official strategy for reintegrating returning citizens into society. Healing Communities was able to accomplish all of this even while operating without a grant or outside funding for the past four years. Currently, its 21 state chapters have no paid staff and operate solely using volunteers. Trulear hopes to expand the work through his participation in JustLeadership USA, which named him to its 2017 cohort of Leading with Conviction Fellows. There, with other formerly incarcerated leaders, he is further honing his skills in leadership and organizational development.