Where did the name “Stephen’s Table” come from?
The name comes from Acts 6:1-7 in the Bible where Stephen was chosen among the first deacons of the early Christian community to “wait on tables” while the Twelve attended to “prayer and ministry of the word.” In the same way, our volunteers have been called into service on behalf of the broader Chattanooga community — so that the needs of those who have been marginalized by the criminal justice system are not neglected in order to pursue other necessary matters.
What is the purpose?
The purpose is to preserve the social bonds between prisoners and their
Who is eligible?
We send a post card to everyone from Hamilton County who has been sentenced recently to serve time in prison inviting them to participate in Stephen’s Table. To be eligible they must be:
- Incarcerated in a state or federal prison on a felony conviction
- From Hamilton County and planning to return to Hamilton County if released
- At least 24 months before he or she is released
- And willing to actively participate in Stephen’s Table
Why do you need volunteers?
For two reason: (1) Because they are uninfluenced by a paycheck, community volunteers are often viewed by prisoners as more legitimate representatives of their hometown than an organization’s paid personnel, and (2) given the number of people from Hamilton County who are presently incarcerated (c. 1,000), it would be impracticable for a few hired hands to develop individual relationships with them all.
What do you need me to do?
Mostly write letters.
How many people will I be expected to write or visit?
No more than two — unless you have the time and really want to. We would rather you spend more time on fewer people than less time on more.
The research we are following shows that one visit a month during the last 12 months in prison improves the rate people stay out of prison by 30% — and that two letters have the same effect as one visit. Therefore, the goal is two pieces of mail or one visit a month with each person.
How long is the commitment?
Twelve months. However, you can volunteer as long as you want. We’ll invite you to renew your commitment every year as a way of managing expectation.
Does it cost anything?
Not much. We discourage spending money on the person you’re writing. Some committees may chose to provide funds for holiday programs or to support reentry kits. However, they do this as a group and not as an individual. The only direct cost you will incur is the cost of postage — both for the letters you send and for their replies — and the cost of transportation if you chose to visit the person you’re writing.
What are my responsibilities after they get out?
None. You’re responsibilities are transferred to Chattanooga Endeavors during the three months prior to their release. You will have an opportunity to reengage with them in a mentorship role after their reentry needs have been addressed. However, this is entirely up to you and your committee.
Will the person I’m writing know where I live?
All letters are sent to a PO Box which Chattanooga Endeavors manages. Letters are scanned and emailed to volunteers. We actually require this and prohibit volunteers from using any other address.
How about my name?
Just your first name. Volunteers write on behalf of their committee and attempt to form a bond between the person they’re writing and the group not themselves.
What about personal information?
All they will know about you is what you tell them. We encourage minimal self-disclosure, only when it is pertinent to an exchange, and never in a way that reveals personal details that might be manipulated.
Doesn’t this extra caution make it hard to build a relationship?
Not at all. Whereas self-disclosure can help build rapport, you will get further by being dependable, truthful, and non-judgmental.
Do you screen people before matching them with volunteers?
Yes. We screen for risk and match those with higher risk to an internal committee of seasoned volunteers with staff support.
Do you accept sex offenders?
Yes. However, they are matched with the same high risk committee.
What about murderers?
We do. In fact, many people with murder convictions are actually very low risk. This is because they tend to be older, have served much more time in prison, and have fewer prior convictions. Nevertheless, any volunteer can refuse any match at any time. Therefore, you will never be asked to write someone you are uncomfortable with.
How about someone with a life or death sentence?
Absolutely. We believe that we have a special calling to reach out to people who may never come home.
Where can I find out more?
You can look through our material at www.stephenstable.org or give us a call at (423) 266-1888 ext 103
How do I get started?
If you would like to get started, please complete our online volunteer registration.