TABOR CITY — A vision nine years in the making is close to coming to fruition.
In 2008, the state opened the Tabor Correction Institution in Tabor City, and, since that time, a group of Christians have had a burden for the families whose lives have been disrupted by the incarceration of a loved one.
“It’s usually the male breadwinner who is in prison,” said Bladen County resident Wilbur Ward. “If you can keep that family united through visits, or contacts, or any kind of measure, that prisoner has about a 70 percent better chance of not being incarcerated again during his lifetime.”
Ward serves on the Matthew 25 Board of Directors, a 16-member group established with the commitment to open a center to house families visiting prisoners. The group derives its name from the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 25. In the well-known “Inasmuch as you have …” passage, Christ told His followers when they take care of the sick, hungry, homeless, and prisoners, they are effectively serving Him.
“It’s one of the commandments Jesus made right before His death,” said Ward. “but most of the time, the group left out is the incarcerated individuals. Saying, ‘They did the crime; let them pull the time’ is not the right attitude. If we believe what Christ told us, it’s the right thing to do to take care of these people.”
The proposed Tabor City home will serve Bladen, Robeson, Brunswick, Columbus and Horry counties, each of which has at least one detention facility that cumulatively house over 4,000 prisoners. Families desiring to visit a loved one will be able to stay up to three nights in the Matthew 25 Center and receive free food while there. The only requirements are that they travel from at least 50 miles away and register ahead of time.
“Since the breadwinner is often the one incarcerated, funds may be limited for travel or motel rooms or food,” said Ward. “We don’t want there to be any barriers to families visiting, in the hopes of ultimately decreasing the likelihood that prisoners will be be incarcerated again.”
The center will be modeled after a similar facility in Burgaw that Ward described as “hugely successful.”
To get the facility off the ground, funds are needed. The estimated $536,000 price tag has, in large part, been covered by donations thus far, and the group only needs another $130,448. The Bob Barker Company, a large Fuquay-Varina-based manufacturer of prison equipment, is offering a $100,000 grant to the group if they can reach $436,000 — or an additional $30,448 — by July 15. Organizers are hoping for a late summer groundbreaking if they can reach the goal.
To that end, the board is planning a “leap of faith” banquet. On March 25, Phil Cunningham, director of guest services at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., will join the board and guests for “an interesting night,” according to Ward. Sponsorships for tables are available at $500, which will buy eight tickets to distribute to people who may be interested in the facility’s story. Individual seats are also available for $15.
“We’re hoping individuals and churches will really step up in a good fashion to help raise money,” said Ward. “The response from Bladen County so far has been encouraging, and we’re hoping it can grow and become broader.”
Those interested in sponsoring a table at the banquet or otherwise donating to the effort can visit matthew25tc.com or call Ward at 910-647-3341. The organization can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 313, Tabor City, N.C. 28463.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.