Frequently Asked Questions
How is Bridges To Life responding the the COVID-19 pandemic?
Due to restrictions on volunteer access to prisons that began in March 2020, we created a self-study format to be offered for the duration of COVID-19 concerns. Inmate particpants receive a Restoring Peace book and companion study guide, with the same requirements to graduate as those for the volunteer-facilitated version of BTL. Since mid-2021, BTL has resumed the volunteer-facilitated format of the program at units where COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, while retaining self-study where still needed.
Is Bridges To Life a religious program?
The Bridges To Life (BTL) program is faith-based, but not religious. By that we mean, while we do include references to Bible stories and verses in our curriculum materials, no one is required to be of a particular religious faith to participate in the program. All faiths, and even those of no faith, are welcome in Bridges To Life, and we do not preach or proselytize. There is a spiritual component included in our mission statement, that through the BTL program we seek to "show the transforming power of God's love and forgiveness" to all who participate.
Do BTL volunteers have to be crime victims?
No. While crime victims do play a critical role in the BTL process, there are two ways to volunteer for BTL: 1) as a facilitator who, along with a partner volunteer, co-facilitates the program within a small group each week; and, 2) as a crime victim speaker who comes to the facility on one occasion during the 14-week program to share their story. A facilitator is not required to be a crime victim. A crime victim speaker may function as both a speaker and facilitator if they choose.
Are any special skills needed to volunteer as a BTL program facilitator?
The only requirements for a volunteer to participate in the facilitator role are a willing heart and listening ear. As you guide inmates through the BTL curriculum, if you can ask open-ended questions, encourage participation, and pay attention as participants share, you have the necessary skills to volunteer for our program. In fact, no particular professional background or credentials are required, and BTL provides all necessary training and materials. (See Become A BTL Volunteer for more info.)
What is the time commitment involved in being a BTL volunteer?
The BTL program is conducted in weekly sessions over 14 consecutive weeks. Sessions last approximately 2 hours at the prison or alternative facility; with drive time to and from the unit, the volunteer will expend about 3 hours of their time per session. We also ask that volunteers prepare each week by doing the same homework between sessions that the participants do (read the weekly chapter in Restoring Peace, and answer that week's questions in the study guide), so an additional hour per week may be required.
Isn’t it risky or even dangerous to volunteer in a prison?
A prison can certainly be intimidating, yet there are countless security measures and policies in place to protect visitors. Inmates are under constant watch, and volunteers are never left alone with inmates. In Texas*, volunteers must complete a 4-hour security training by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to prepare them for coming into prison, and be re-certified every two years. In the 20 years that BTL has been offering its program, no volunteer has ever been threatened or harmed while on duty. (*Training requirements in locations other than Texas may vary; contact that state's Department of Corrections.)
Do volunteers or BTL staff stay in touch with graduates after the program ends?
TDCJ policy states that volunteers in the Texas prison system are prohibited from forming "non-professional" (i.e., outside the program) relationships with offenders; to do so risks loss of their approved volunteer status. For this reason, BTL policy for our volunteers is summed up this way: "End of program, end of contact." That said, we care about all of our graduates and encourage them to keep in touch and let us know how they’re doing.
Does BTL provide any services for offenders after their release from prison?
The BTL program is designed to take place during incarceration, thus our mission does not include the direct offering of re-entry services. We do, however, provide a list of aftercare organizations to our graduates at the end of the program, and these are also listed under the Resources tab on our website.
Can BTL graduates become BTL volunteers after they are released from prison?
Yes! After successfully completing TDCJ's 18-month probationary period after release, former offenders who are graduates of our program may apply and train to become BTL volunteers -- in fact, almost 50 past graduates have done so since BTL began! Additionally, while still incarcerated, some BTL graduates may qualify to participate in the program a second time as an "Encourager," that is, one who mentors and supports their peers through the BTL process.
Is the BTL program available to sex offenders?
Yes, BTL is currently offered in four Sex Offender Treatment Facilities (SOTFs), with plans to expand into more in the future.
Does BTL have non-discrimination, anti-harassment, and safeguarding policies?
Yes. To review these policies, click here.