While many people might scoff at or otherwise distance themselves from high-risk registered sex offenders, Dale Schiele has welcomed them as friends for the past 31-years.
“It’s a restorative work,” he said of the friendships. “We’re looking at crime from a restorative perspective instead of locking them up and throwing away the key.
“It’s a catalyst to promote healing with the offender … We’re reducing the harm to the community.”
On Saturday, Schiele celebrated his retirement from director of the Grace Mennonite Church’s Person-to-Person program — a volunteer-based prison ministry made up of two parts.
One part is visiting high-risk registered sex offenders who have been released, providing them with friendship and a reliable sounding board.
“It gives them a sense of belonging, and everybody needs a sense of belonging,” Schiele said.
“It’s in isolation and particularly during times of stress that lots of fellows will re-offend.”
The other part of Person-to-Person is made up of prison visits to those at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary who don’t typically receive guests.
“Sometimes at Christmas time when I go into their cells, all I see is the Person to Person Christmas card we’d sent them, so that jus tells you the need for friendship that’s there,” Schiele said.
“Most of us cannot appreciate the number of friends and warm contacts we have in the community.
“Friendship is something that we all take for granted on the outside, but it’s a valued commodity for these guys on the inside.”
Celebrating Schiele’s retirement during a get-together at Little Red River Park on Saturday, Person-to-Person volunteer Ed Olfert said that Schiele’s boots will be difficult to fill.
“Dale is a guy with a very gentle persona, and he brings that together with a tremendous respect and an offer of friendship to everyone he meets,” Olfert said.
Friendship is something that we all take for granted on the outside, but it’s a valued commodity for these guys on the inside.– Dale Schiele
“He’s very much the person of God that he presents, and as a result of that he’s tremendously loved and tremendously respected.”
The Christian angle is an important one, Schiele said, because the Person-to-Person efforts represent what the Bible implores all Christians to do.
“Motivation to do this kind of work is often found among Christians — In Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks of ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me,’” Schiele said.
“It’s these people who have taken that commandment of Jesus seriously and have reached out and become the … salt of the earth and who have done the things he has advised them to do.”
Working under the motto “No more Victims,” their work appears to be paying off, Olfert said.
“I’ve seen lives being changed — people learning to live well and with integrity,” he said. “It changes people more than anything I’ve ever seen.
“I have six grandchildren and I feel a strong responsibility to leave the world in a little better of a place, and it feels right that I do that through the perspective that Dale has modeled, through respective relationships rather than more prisons and more guns and more guards.”
Although Schiele is retiring as Person-to-Person director after 31 years, he insists that he’s sticking around.
“I will probably do this work for the rest of my life in some capacity, as a volunteer,” he said.
Person-to-Person is always on the lookout for more volunteers, with more volunteers resulting in more results.
Those interested in volunteering can call Prince Albert Grace Mennonite Church pastor Ryan Siemens at 764-4342.