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Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 6, 2006

Pastors call for inmate rehab center

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

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The Rev. Michael Bowen and Little Rock Baptist Church Pastor S.M. Nelson have decided to “step up to the plate” for area jail inmates.

The two gentlemen are asking for the community’s help in erecting a Safe Haven Center in Selma for probation violators and drug offenders – a group they believe “can be successfully acclimated into general society if they were taught and/or trained with crucial life skills.”

On Thursday, Bowen said probation violators and drug offenders make up 33 percent of inmates currently being held in the Dallas County Jail, where he visits two to three times a week. Rather than sitting in a cell awaiting an unknown court date, inmates with probation and drug offenses would have a place to rejuvenate their emotional well-beings via prayer sessions, peer group sessions and one-on-one counseling sessions, Bowen said.

The Safe Haven Center will also partner with other community agencies to assist inmates with job placement, educational and vocational training and permanent housing placement.

“Our aim is to rehab inmates and get them back in the community to be vital citizens,” Nelson said.

Both Bowen and Nelson hope the Safe Haven Center will curb the influx of jail inmates. The building they desire to construct will house 20 to 30 men and women who would stay at the center during a six to nine month period.

“It’s a must in every community,” Nelson said, who has led a prison outreach ministry in Selma for four years.

Added Bowen, “This situation is a pandemic. It’s gotten so bad the average case in the courtroom is drug related. Drugs are the number one problem in America. Drugs are the number one problem in Selma.”

“The need is there. There’s such a tremendous need.”

To further their cause, Bowen and Nelson have sent out letters to area legislators, judges, attorneys, city officials, county officials and law enforcement officials. Thus far, they have garnered

positive responses.

“We expect the county jail, public attorneys, all law enforcement agencies to work with us,” Nelson said.

Bowen and Nelson said it would take $150,000 to 200,000 to build the Safe Haven Center, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, but “we have not received a dime from anyone as of yet,” Bowen said.

“Our main problem is funding,” Nelson said. “We need support from the community.”

Anyone who wishes to make a donation may send checks to The Safe Haven Center, P.O. Box 1971, Selma, Alabama, 36701.

Bowen stressed citizens should also step up to assist inmates, resulting in the betterment of their own homes and families.

“It may be my problem today, but it may be yours tomorrow,” he said.