People ask me all the time what my reasoning was for starting a nonprofit and specifically one that has a goal of helping people within the prison industrial complex. The answers are easy for me but there are three of them and it gets complicated. Besides, kinda like me they’re petty intense. So instead of laying them all on ya in one felt swoop I decided it would be better if I did a trilogy of sorts. The Trilogy of Reasons seams like an amazing title. So Trilogy of Reasons, Part One: The Desire of Chaplaincy.
Many know and others don’t but I’m an ordained minister with an obsession for not being broke all the time. Not sure if you know this, but most ministers (minus the online televangelists) make very little. I prefer one on one ministry and the reality is that chaplaincy pays even less. People who are present to ease the spiritual suffering of those in need just aren’t worth much in a modern capitalist society… go figure.
So I set my eye, while in graduate school earning my M.Div, on chaplaincy in the federal system. Federal prisons have a high burn out rate for chaplains, certainly, but that also means a great opportunity to find a job. Federal level chaplaincy paid a decent wage, and it meant an adventure as I could move to wherever in the country the jobs might be open. It was an exciting time and I had a plan! Huzzah!
People say if you make plans then God often laughs. Seems kinda petty of God but whatever. Sure enough, the plans changed on me- with the election came a federal hiring freeze and that meant non-essential personnel were no longer hiring someone who is present for the spiritual needs of our nation’s prisoners. It just isn’t considered essential. So two thirds of the way through my program I realized I no longer had a pathway to employment. Which, with mounting school debt, was a harsh reality to accept.
So there I was graduating with an Mdiv with mounting student loans and no idea on earth what I was going to do. I could make more doing rideshare services than being a state prison chaplain. A single mom, having my own schedule meant I could be there for my child but making decent money with my own car was practical and necessary. I had no idea what was next but I knew until I figured it out I had to pay the bills.
Then, one night, while brain storming with a friend I realized there was still potential. On the way to learning other things I had picked up how to do basic coding on websites and had built a few decent ones for small nonprofits. In the mean time, my passion for being in prison work had not abated. So as we talked a plan began to form. Slowly at first and then suddenly: why not teach women in prison to code? Why not give them a marketable skill and a pathway to employment? We could effectively double their income earning potential. Why WOULDN’T we do that?!
And so the idea of Code/Out was born. I didn’t have a job, and I still didn’t have a way to make money but at least I found a purpose to move forward. We dove into a fundraiser. We dove into grants. We dove into a new way of seeing what being in and around prisoners could mean. And so here we are. In the midst of developing curriculum and finding ways to get hardware and do hard things. Chaplaincy may be out of reach for me right now but addressing the spiritual and financial realities of women in prison? Now that’s something I can wrap my head around.