Ex-offender walks into freedom with Ham Lake parish’s support

| March 17, 2017 | 4 Comments

Tyrece Matthews, left, talks with Kay Mori and her friend, Lori Toltzman, before Mass at St. Paul in Ham Lake March 12. Matthews is living at the home of Mori, a parishioner, and her husband, Bill, since being released from prison March 7. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Kay and Bill Mori did not hesitate to welcome ex-offender Tyrece Matthews to stay with them after his recent release from prison.

“Because we visited him so much in prison and could see what a genuine person he is, we didn’t have any fear about bringing him into our home,” Kay said.

Parishioners of St. Paul in Ham Lake, the Moris became involved in a parish-wide effort to support Matthews’ transition from prison to freedom through the EMBRACE program, which launched in 2015.

Matthews, who left prison in early March, spoke at the end of St. Paul’s Sunday Masses March 11-12 to thank the congregation for their prayers, letters and support. A long line of parishioners greeted and embraced Matthews on their way out of the sanctuary after Mass.

Deacon Tim Zinda, a deacon for the parish and founder of the EMBRACE program, ministered to Matthews in prison. It began the process EMBRACE stands for: Eucharist, mercy, brotherhood, restoration, action, compassion and encouragement.

“He never refused to see me as a chaplain,” Deacon Zinda said.

Matthews, who went to prison for assaulting his girlfriend, learned about the Catholic faith through Deacon Zinda and joined the Church in 2015. It helped Matthews make desired changes in his life, but that he couldn’t make on his own.

“I didn’t have the strength to do it, so God gave me that strength,” Matthews said.

St. Paul parishioner Cheryle Young witnessed Matthews’ conversion through written correspondence.

“I could see that he was becoming more positive and upbeat,” Young said.

After years of letter-writing and visits, EMBRACE now helps Matthews with housing, food, clothing, education, transportation and finding work. In addition, St. Paul’s participation in the program helps Matthews integrate into a parish’s life.

Support through EMBRACE goes beyond St. Paul, too. Ian and Catherine Marin, parishioners of Immaculate Conception in Columbia Heights, visited Matthews in prison through the program. Catherine, who works as a therapist with sex offenders, expressed the importance of the support EMBRACE provides in preventing recidivism.

“I’ve seen people have to go back, violating probation just because they could not find a home,” she said.

Coordinator of correctional ministries for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Deacon Zinda said that without support, former inmates often relapse. He said EMBRACE caught the attention of Matthews’ parole officer, a Baptist, and she tried to inform her congregation about the program.

Other parishes also hope to help ex-offenders transition successfully.

Matthews’ journey has just begun. Now in his mid-30s, he takes what he calls a “freedom walk” daily to experience the gift he has received, which he describes as an “overwhelming feeling.”

He plans to continue college classes, which he began while in prison after he received his GED. Faith also remains a top priority, which he said will play a big role in the career path he chooses.

“Man’s plans fail, but God’s plans are forever,” Matthews said.


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Category: Local News