The mission of Dismas of Vermont, Inc. is to reconcile former prisoners with society and society with former prisoners.
Community is fundamentally about relationship and it is precisely the relationship between the person who has committed a crime and their community that is broken, first by the real harm done by the crime committed and subsequently by the alienation that results from incarceration. In reconciliation, wholeness is restored to the former prisoner and to society.
If we hold people accountable for their actions as a matter of justice, then reconciliation is a completion of that justice. For a former prisoner to be reconciled to their community that person needs to overcome the sense of alienation – that sense of being an outsider and unwanted. They must become participating members of their community, and they must be returned to full citizenship with all its responsibilities and rights.
What We Do
Dismas House is a supportive community for former prisoners transitioning from incarceration. Dismas provides transitional housing for formerly incarcerated people and recruits university students and international volunteers to live in the house. Living in community accomplishes the Dismas mission of reconciliation and continues the original Dismas model.
Dismas House can be described as a “family-like” community, with structured and supportive daily rhythms in our transitional homes. There is a spirit of openness and participation in consensus decision-making by all members of the Dismas community. Students, international volunteers, and former prisoners live together and share weekday dinners with staff and volunteer cooks from the broader community. International volunteers, who connect with Dismas through the Volunteers for Peace Program, come for three to six months to live at Dismas and support house staff. Many countries have been represented: France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Russia, England, Belgium, and many others. It is a great learning experience for both residents and volunteers.
Life at Dismas House follows the natural rhythms of family life. During the day, Dismas residents go to work and/or to school. In the evening, everyone shares the evening meal. Afterward they might attend 12 step meetings, study, help with chores, prepare for the next day, re-connect with their families, relax, or socialize. The evening meal is the centerpiece of the day where community building takes place. One of the chief ingredients is the presence of our volunteer cooks. As they come month after month they become an important part of the Dismas community. If the residential community and staff can be likened to the nuclear family, the volunteer cooks are the extended family: cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.
Creating community at Dismas House is central to our mission. The presence of students and the many volunteers communicates a critical message to our former prisoner residents: “I care enough about you that I will spend some part of my life in relationship with you.” It is a message of acceptance as opposed to rejection, and of inclusion as opposed to separation.
Each Dismas House has a small staff responsible for interviewing and accepting residents, working with residents and volunteers to create community, and providing residents individual support, guidance, and a connection to social services when needed.