Fostering A Sense Of Dignity

“A big transition that was strange and frightening turned into something comforting, joyful, and welcoming because of the care your church extended to Donnie. I hope you can find a way to share this message with them,” writes Jackie Ouvry, Assistant Defender in the State Appellate Defender Office and attorney for Donnie Davis.  

Birmingham First, through our Church and Society Ministry and in cooperation with the Michigan State Appellate Defenders Office (SADO) in Detroit, sponsors an ongoing Juvenile Lifer (JL) support program. Juvenile Lifers are prison inmates who were sentenced to life in prison without parole when they were 17 years old or younger. There are currently over 300 Juvenile Lifers in Michigan prisons and most of them have served between 25 and 60 years behind bars. Our JL support program reaches out to both just-released Juvenile Lifers and to those who remain incarcerated. 

Donnie Davis, a just-released Juvenile Lifer, left prison on October 30, 2020 after 40 years incarcerated. He was moving to a new town, Grand Rapids, and was nervous to be going to a bigger city after growing up in small ones.  

Birmingham First’s JL support program provides just-released Juvenile Lifers with a backpack and a duffel bag containing life essentials (clothes, shoes, jackets, socks, winter outerwear, toiletries, and gift cards for meals and shopping). Volunteer shoppers are provided with a soon-to-be released JL’s name, sizes, and any unique clothing needs along with a $330 shopping allowance to fill a backpack and duffel bag. The backpack and duffel bag are presented to the JL on the day he is released from prison. Between 10 -12 Michigan Juvenile Lifers are released each year. The backpacks and duffle bags that the church provides serve to welcome JLs back into society and to help ease their transition from incarceration.   

In a message Birmingham First received from Assistant Defender Ouvry, she writes, “I hope you can please reach out to the church you work with that creates bags for returning juvenile lifer prisoners. I want to thank them for the generosity shown to my client, Donnie Davis.” 

She continues, “Donnie appreciated that he was going to a welcoming community at Exodus Place, a transitional housing facility, but he felt at home when he received the bags from your church. The clothes helped him find work, and the extras stuffed into every pocket fostered a sense of dignity in returning to the outside world. The masks especially made him feel comfortable in a strange new place because he at least knew he would have protection from the pandemic.

“I spoke with Donnie tonight. He is glad to be working, happy in a safe home, and grateful that strangers thought to make him a little more comfortable in a scary time. Thank you so much.” 

Birmingham First’s work with Juvenile Lifers is a joyful way for us to live out our faith and to follow Christ’s teaching to “love thy neighbor.” If you would like more information on the program or would like to participate as a volunteer, please contact Frank Driscoll at 248.535.2225 or by email.

“I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.”

Matthew 25:38

"The clothes helped him find work, and the extras stuffed into every pocket fostered a sense of dignity in returning to the outside world."
Jackie Ouvry
Assistant Defender in the State Appellate Defender Office and attorney for Donnie Davis