“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them. (Isaiah 58: 6-7)”
When Dawn Green began her work helping imprisoned women through Isaiah 58 Ministry, she says her heart went out to them because she knew she could easily be sitting alongside them.
She knows decisions from her past as a young adult could have had detrimental effects. There were parties, bars, and marijuana. Enough goings on, she said, that when she sees the women helped through Isaiah 58 – which exists to serve women leaving prison and others starting new – she knows “only God saved me from hurting someone else or myself.
“When I see the women, I tell them they’ve already done the hardest things: being arrested and living in prison. I encourage them by telling them they can succeed. ‘You can do this,’ I tell them. I tell them my situation, and they can relate to that.”
Green has served as ministry director for about six years, working alongside several others. Isaiah 58 Ministry falls under Santuck Baptist Church in Wetumpka and shares God’s truth and love with any woman in crisis.
The ministry provides much-needed items for women at a “store” at Santuck, including clothing, shoes, accessories, hygiene items, and makeup. They help women being released from Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka and Montgomery Women’s Facility. Also, they serve women who have had house fires and need help starting over and women leaving abusive relationships with nothing but the clothes on their backs – and sometimes, a child at their side.
One of the remarkable things Isaiah 58 does is pack a suitcase for ladies leaving Tutwiler and the Montgomery facility. So many women leaving the facilities have burned bridges with their families and leave prison with no support. Their families also might be unable to provide hygienic items or clothes for them. They may have already spent what savings they had on legal fees.
Isaiah 58 was founded about nine years ago by Traci Martin, a former missionary chaplain at Tutwiler. Green said the Lord revealed to Martin that as she talked to the ladies, she found a great need to help them start over. So she went through the necessary channels to receive permission to assist the ladies with clothing and hygiene products.
Eventually, permission was granted to bring luggage to the prison for women being released, and today, suitcases sit filled with personal needs for women as they reenter society. Often, Green said, women would receive a pair of men’s pants and a men’s golf shirt. Not only is it uncomfortable, but most often, it never fits.
The women receive applications for the clothing, detailing their size preference and the style of apparel needed: scrubs, casual wear, and professional clothing.
“We had a lady go into prison with diabetes and who ended up losing both legs while in prison,” Green said. “We helped get her shorter dresses so the material wouldn’t get caught in her wheelchair wheels.”
Women from churches all over Central Alabama help the ministry and those at Santuck.
“It has been an awesome experience to work with these ladies and see how imaginative they are,” Green said of the different church volunteers donating items. For example, one church held a “delicates” party, where women were asked to bring undergarments to an event for entry, which were later donated to Isaiah 58 Ministry.
First Baptist Church in Wetumpka held a “Jeans in June” event. Hundreds of pairs were donated. A Russell Mills truckload once unloaded boxes upon boxes of sweatpants, jackets, and bras.
“It’s a blessing to those who give,” Green said. “And for those who receive.”
A past moved passed
Growing up, Green was a quiet child, compliant. And said her family – including two older siblings – just assumed that as she became older, she would continue being “good.”
“I grew up in a nice home,” she said. “With a mom and dad who loved me. I knew they were coming home every night and that food would be on the table. I just craved belonging and acceptance.
“What happens in America if you leave kids alone – they’ll find other kids who are alone. Then, there was alcohol and, eventually, marijuana. Since I spent more time with my friends than my family, I wanted to belong. Only in recent years did I put it all together. I never wanted to do the bad things; I just wanted to fit in.”
Green attended bars and parties and said the Lord saved her from a bad situation, and she “finally surrendered. And I said at about 26 (years old) that if it’s Him and me for the rest of my life, then I surrender.”
She did, moved back home, and had a boss and best friend who never gave up on her. Her boss would invite Green to lunch. To meals after church. Eventually, to Wednesday evening programs at a church. Slowly, she said, and comfortably. Now, she shares her story with hundreds of other women.
Re-entry, looking ahead
Green can enter a prison and find 20-30 women in a re-entry class. It’s an opportunity for her to share how God has worked in her life and explain what Isaiah 58 provides – all while showing them how to fill out forms for their driver’s license or a social security card.
“All these people need a whole lot of different things to try and be successful when they get out,” she said.
Suitcases for the women are stored in the main waiting room at the prisons – and aside from the clothes and hygiene products inside of each of them, there is also a Bible and devotional material, and a notepad and pen.
Prior to Covid, in 2019, the ministry gave 989 suitcases to women at both Tutwiler and Montgomery’s facilities. During Covid, everything shut down, and it has since taken time to get back to where they once were.
In 2020, there were over 300 suitcases given to women. In 2021, about 205, and last year, 291.
“We work totally off of donations,” Green said. “We receive more items than we do cash. Cash goes toward hygiene products and undergarments.
“We’re located in the old (Santuck) church building. We started with one room and now have closets in 10 classrooms filled.”
Green said her natural personality was “one of a scared little bunny.” But today, she knows God’s calling has her reaching beyond her comfort zone. She says, “Maybe He just wants us to be willing.”
“You do what He calls you to do,” she said. “I can’t change people, but God can. Only God can. It just brings you closer and closer to Him.
Donation and volunteer opportunities
Volunteers work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., assisting ladies who come in to shop for much-needed items. In addition, donations to the closet are accepted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Call the Santuck Baptist Church office for information: (334) 567-2364.