About 100 people turned out Tuesday evening to the Yokefellowship Prison Ministry Awareness Banquet. The nonprofit ministry's Upper Susquehanna Valley council provides weekly small group discussions to inmates in federal, state and county prisons in Lycoming, Clinton and Tioga counties.
The banquet was held to recognize volunteers, hear testimonies and raise funds.
"Yokefellow has always been based on small group meetings for discussions," said board member Lou Kolb, "which is especially good for inmates, who are rarely, if ever, asked what they think."
About 100 people attended an awareness banquet for Yokefellowship Prison Ministry Tuesday night, where they ate dinner, listened to stories by people aided by the program and, above, joined in prayer.
One woman shared her testimony of when she first encountered Yokefellowship's ministry while serving time in SCI-Muncy.
"I was in jail for the third time, and I had to quit drinking when I was in there and I was a little afraid," she said. "There were 80 girls there and maybe six are going into these groups. I learned I am a child of the King, and no matter what I've done, I am valuable."
Lycoming County Judge Marc Lovecchio delivered the keynote address, wherein he shared stories of some who have come before him since he took the bench in 2009 and some of his judicial philosophy.
"It's depressing to see victims of human behavior, the direct damage, the collateral damage," he said. "I saw 85 cases yesterday. How do you handle this when dispensing justice? I could never be what Jesus was, but I could learn from Him, and give some of what He gave. You see Him walking with sinners, He was patient with them as they slowly refocused their sights on higher things.
"I try my best to separate the conduct from the offender," Lovecchio continued. "Everyone deserves respect, everyone is a human being. Sometimes we forget that 95 percent of the people we put in jail are going to get back out."
The Rev. Larry Coleman, Yokefellowship's executive director for Pennsylvania, spoke about the ministry's guiding mission.
"We believe in a holistic approach, because we take in what people don't usually take in - the spiritual side, helping people along spiritual steps. We don't try and do it all. We network with others and believe in the future of every ex-offender. We believe they're an opportunity and not a disaster, and through the inspiration and strength and experience of those who have been through the system, we can give back."
More about Yokefellowship Prison Ministry can be found at Yokefellowship.org or by calling regional director Nessie Whaley at 326-6868.