Progressive Prison Project
A Vision of Forensic Ministry
By Jeff Grant
“Needing help is not a crime; knowing that you need help –
and not asking for it–is a shame.”
In our ministries, I hear stories by so many people who knew that life could have turned out differently – and they knew it years or perhaps decades before their problems arose. Long before they had they had legal problems, or drug problems, or marital problems. I don’t think it was just wishful thinking. I think what they had were moments of pure clarity that transcended where they were, and allowed them to see things as they really were. They had visions of how life could be something different and unexpected. For most, unfortunately, these moments were fleeting.
I had visions of living in small spaces for most of my life – I mean really small spaces. Perhaps it was a reaction to the chaos of my family of origin, and my need for some structure and security – but I saw the visions of the small spaces nonetheless. I saw myself working out in them, sleeping in them, reading in them.
I also had visions that influenced our ministry helping families with so called white-collar issues. I have coined the term Forensic Ministry to describe it – I’m still not sure if it is totally accurate or if it will, or should, stick.
Back in the ’90’s, I was General Counsel to a very large real estate equities and management company – whose principals were indicted on Federal criminal charges. In that capacity, I hired and coordinated over twenty law firms – mostly white- collar defense, tax, etc. At the end of five difficult, intensely fascinating, years, we saved the company, its principals, reputation and assets. But personally, I was lost. With this new skill set I had a vision of becoming some kind of white-collar expert who could help companies, their indicted principals and their families. I met with the various law firms with whom I had worked on this big case. Each and every one told me that it was an interesting and noble idea. They all agreed, nobody would understand it. I don’t blame them – even I didn’t understand it.
So, I went on to build one of the most successful law practices in Westchester County, NY. That is, until I got into trouble myself.
I’m not sure exactly what happened to the visions I had before I got into trouble. Certainly I went to prison, and was confined to a small space. Maybe my serving those thirteen and a half months at Allenwood LSCI was a self-fulfilling prophecy – as I lay on my bunk, I had many occasions to think back to the visions I had when I was younger.
Prison started some sort of transformation for me that I still don’t fully understand. It still informs and drives my ministry and my life each and every day. Some refer to this as a calling – a term I use mostly for lack of a better one.
This calling encompasses a redemption story that has led me from prison; into volunteering in hospitals, rehabs and prisoner reentry programs; and to attending and earning a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in NYC – the preeminent urban seminary in the world; to becoming a prison minister in the inner city in Bridgeport, Connecticut; to founding the Progressive Prison Project – a Forensic Ministry for people and families facing white collar and other non-violent criminal issues… incredibly fulfilling almost the exact vision I saw before I got into trouble. These families receive so little compassion and empathy – and are so easy to “other” – by a world that is all too eager to believe the next sensationalized headline and to ignore the human side. The goal is to help bring these suffering communities together so that they can help one another – and to try to remain balanced and ever aware of how overarching social issues – such as privilege and poverty – will necessarily influence these ministries and their outcomes.
Along the way, I developed a unique combination of experience, skills, discipline, and intuition needed to fulfill this vision – in business, legal, prison ministry, prisoner reentry, drug & alcohol recovery, religion, social ethics, activism, family work, authorship, etc. I really did not set out for this to happen – I was just putting one foot ahead of the other. As clergy, we have taken a sacred vow of confidentiality and are the guardians of people’s most closely held secrets – this privilege is protected under law. We suggest that those whom we minister retain good, competent attorneys who are similarly engaged in confidential, privileged capacities.
Some people see visions before they get into trouble and find clear paths for themselves and their families. Others are not so fortunate, and need help in both seeing things more clearly and in having the path cleared. Needing help is not a crime; knowing that you need help–and not asking for it– is a shame.
I am a minister and a friend. It is a privilege and a blessing to use the experiences I’ve been given to help others. Please feel free to give me a call if I can be of service to you or somebody you care about.
Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Social Ethicist, Author
Director, Progressive Prison Project
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604