Preparing Prisoners for a Second Chance
Liberian-born pastor Garswa Matally understands what it is like to feel imprisoned. Having lived in refugee camps during a time of civil war in West Africa, Garswa can identify with the feelings of isolation and the desires for a better life that prisoners encounter. These experiences are what make Garswa the ideal individual to start a reentry program for incarcerated men in Owensboro.
In January of 1991, at the age of 27, Garswa arrived in the United States. After graduating from seminary in Louisville in 1994, Garswa, “Brother G” as he is commonly known, moved to Owensboro to seek employment. Although Brother G has been very active in ministry and several local churches, his heart quickly led him to prison ministry.
“Because of my background with refugee life, I have been involved in jail ministry over the years. It’s very similar to being in prison,” Brother G said.
After working with individuals through Fresh Start and Friends of Sinners, Brother G began to see the need for a local program that would assist men in making a positive transition from life in jail to life back in society.
“I continued teaching the Fresh Start class and that evolved into the Genesis Men class,” Brother G said. “I’ve always thought of a program that would go beyond basic instruction—that would go into reentry. I found that there was no program for reentry in Owensboro, so I approached the [Green River] Reentry Council.”
The idea of Genesis Reentry Skills, Inc. was well-received, and is now in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“The goal and mission of Genesis Reentry is to walk with those who are coming out of incarceration or are still behind bars,” Brother G said. “We teach them life skills to help with fruitful living in their life and with their families.”
Genesis Men learn job skills, money management, resume development, how to prepare for job interviews, and may even receive the necessary clothing for those interviews. Brother G’s hope is to work with the Kentucky Career Center and local employers “to give guys with a record another chance” and act as a “liaison with employers on their behalf.”
“We will walk with them on how to handle money,” Brother G said. “Money is one of the main reasons they revert to bad behavior. In that vein—we will sit with them and develop a one-page project and develop a budget so they can have a spending and savings plan.”
Brother G said Genesis Reentry will also teach men about manhood and fatherhood, in hopes of equipping them with the skills they need to be a good husband and a good father, even going as far as to help with childcare arrangements, if necessary.
“We want to assist them in very practical ways, by helping them get their documents (such as a driver’s license or social security card) back in order or reinstated to help them so they can be ready for the job market,” Brother G said. “We want to get to where we have a van and can move them around to look for jobs until they can get their own jobs.”
While Brother G has an obvious heart for those in transition, he also has a desire to better educate himself in understanding these individuals and their situations. He is currently attending classes at Western Kentucky University in an effort to receive psychological training to better understand and deal with mental health issues.
With the need to focus on his education and the other ministries he is part of, the Genesis Reentry board made the decision to name Donna Nolan as executive director and Brother G as her assistant director until he completes his schooling.
“He started this thing and he has put so much work into it,” Donna said. “He continues to go out to the jail and teach the Genesis part. Once people get out of jail, there is a big gap to get what they need to be productive and responsible citizens—that’s where Brother G comes in—he can teach them how to be men. He may not take any credit, but, without him, the Genesis program would not be where it is today.”