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“Virtual visitation” videos bring hope to prisons as pandemic drags on

Ministers, musicians, celebrities lift spirits of inmates and staff in facilities across the country

August 25, 2020 – Prisoners and corrections staff across 47 states are watching episodes of Visitation 2.0, a digital video series produced and distributed during the Coronavirus pandemic which seeks to offset the loss of prison visitation rights, and mitigate the consequences of increased isolation and anxiety on the criminal justice system. With an estimated audience of 6,000 facilities nationwide including state, federal, juvenile facilities and jails, this number represents an enormous at-risk population comforted by messages of reassurance and encouragement during these unprecedented times in our country.

“The videos have brought the inmates encouragement and joy during this tough season. It’s made my duties a little lighter and the atmosphere within our facility brighter,” said Chaplain Mark Lopez, whose ministry work includes the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona. “Our men can hardly wait for each DVD to reach us. They liked the segment of the formerly incarcerated. Hearing their experiences hit home with them, and to see how they overcame the challenges of incarceration gave them hope.”

The series, produced by 4th Purpose Foundation, currently offers six 45-minute-long episodes featuring actors, comedians, singers and performers, motivational speakers, plus personal messages from friends, family members and other supporters interspersed throughout each program. Contributors to the series include Pastor Rick Warren, Zach Williams, Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans, Common, Pastor Albert Tate, Eddie George, Bishop TD Jakes, Sam Acho, Lecrae, Willie Robertson, Gov. Bill Lee, Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Michael Jr., Christina Arquette, David Arquette, Alfre Woodard and many more.

Watch episodes of Visitation 2.0 here: https://4thpurpose.org/visitation2/series/

“Each episode aims to deliver an uplifting message for incarcerated men and women and the families impacted by incarceration,” said Josh Smith, Executive Producer of Visitation 2.0 and Founder of 4th Purpose Foundation, who was himself formerly incarcerated. “The effort that went into this initiative comes from my own understanding of what it’s like to be isolated from family and friends. It is meant to show everyone affected by incarceration during these uncertain times that they are not being forgotten and people still care.”

While a few facilities nationwide have begun allowing discretionary visits, the majority remain closed.

to all outside visitors, including families and volunteers. The video series has been part of a series of changes made by correctional authorities across the country to offset the isolation brought on by the Coronavirus.

In Tennessee, its state Department of Corrections partnered with 4th Purpose Foundation to distribute Visitation 2.0 videos to all of its facilities and sought to ensure inmates could maintain some level of communication with the outside world. “Along with the Visitation 2.0 videos, our agency is offering free telephone calls as well as launching a 24-hour information line for families to gain information about their loved ones,” said DOC Commissioner Tony Parker.

Distribution of the series required working with individual correctional facilities in order to make the videos available in whatever medium is needed for their specific setting. “Adequate technology is not readily available in most prison and jail settings, and every facility handles content sharing differently,” said Dr. Kristi Miller Anderson, Research and Programs Officer for 4th Purpose Foundation.

Methods used by facilities to allow prisoners to watch the Visitation 2.0 videos include downloading episodes and airing on closed-circuit TV; burning episodes onto a DVD and showing on a projection system; watching on computer tablets provided by Edovo and APDS (two businesses who partnered with 4th Purpose Foundation to stream Visitation 2.0 at no cost to their inmate tablet users); or watching through Prison Fellowship’s “Floodlight” program and its network of 400,000 inmates across 41 states. If none of these methods are available, 4th Purpose Foundation mails the series in DVD format to the facility.

The patchwork of distribution methods also highlights the essential role prison ministries and outreach organizations play in spreading the word about Visitation 2.0.  4th Purpose enlisted a comprehensive network to create opportunities for those in custody to watch the videos including the American Correctional Association, Correctional Leaders Association, American Correctional Chaplains Association, Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association, Global Leadership Network, Prison Fellowship, God Behind Bars, Alpha, Kairos, Celebrate Recovery on the Inside, Lifeline Global Ministries, Good News Jails and Prisons, Every Youth Every Facility, and many others.

“Prison Fellowship is thrilled our partnership with 4th Purpose has brought Visitation 2.0 videos to our network of prisons and ministries to help bridge the gap after facilities shut down access to thousands of prison volunteers and nonessential workers across the country,” said James Ackerman, President and CEO of Prison Fellowship.

“Our members from across the country appreciate being able to share these videos with juvenile correctional facility staff and youth,” said Eugene Schneeberg, Director of “Every Youth Every Facility,” a prison outreach coalition. “Kids in lock-up are not receiving in-person family visits, volunteer programs have been cancelled, and many are experiencing despair. Visitation 2.0 has been a bright spot in this dark season.”

The creation of Visitation 2.0 is a product of the COVID-19 crisis and its ongoing impact on the more than two million men, women and juveniles in custody in American prisons and jails, and the more than 700,000 people who work in the correctional field. The video series was produced specifically for this moment in our country’s history. Virtual visitation should never take the place of real visitation or be used as an excuse to limit real visitation.

Whether they are delivered in-person or on a screen, words of faith, hope and encouragement are critically important for an individual and a community to hear. Exactly how important these messages are within our nation’s criminal justice system may be difficult to quantify, but the words of inmates and facility staff who have watched episodes of Visitation 2.0 reaffirm the fundamental and essential nature of these values to the human experience, behind bars or not.

“Seeing people out there on the street that’s going to take their time to give us a message in here, to let us know that they are thinking about us and care about us, it was one of the very few times where I felt like somebody actually cares about me sitting in here, and what I’m going through and what I’m feeling. It was appreciated.” –Ronnie, an inmate at Morgan County (TN) Correctional Complex.

“The men have sure enjoyed seeing them. I preview them to our faith-pod on a large screen with a great sound system and when the musicians play their parts, they crank up the sound and all of a sudden you have 100 men singing along! It’s been great. They’re asking me for the next one.” -Chaplain Lopez, Saguaro Correctional Center Eloy, AZ

 “I found this new video called Visitation 2.0 and have been encouraged beyond measure. It’s good to have people out there who care and love us while we’re here locked up.” –Joshua, an inmate tablet user in Kansas.

“Thank you so much for these phenomenal DVD’s. These presentations are so much appreciated. Please keep them coming. The offenders will never be the same.” -Chaplain Hightower, Joe Kegans Intermediate Sanction Facility, Houston.

“It felt good to me because I’m in a cell by myself. To see some on the outside that’s pushing towards what I’m pushing towards; somebody’s meeting me in the middle now and that’s when stuff changes.” -David, an inmate at Morgan County (TN) Correctional Complex.

“I just want to thank you all who made the Visitation 2.0 program available to me. I’ve been having a real rough time and this really helped me out and kept me from doing something I knew I would regret.” –Jesse, an inmate tablet user in Arkansas.

There are currently six episodes of the Visitation 2.0 series available. 4th Purpose Foundation will evaluate whether or not to produce additional episodes depending on how long correctional facilities continue to suspend visitation during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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ABOUT 4th PURPOSE

4th Purpose Foundation is committed to serving as a catalyst to make prison a place of transformation. The foundation invests in research and programs that help prepare inmates for release from prison, starting day one of their sentence. Learn more about 4th Purpose Foundation at 4thpurpose.org.

 

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