|Deacon Frank Bainbridge received the inaugural Compassionate Leadership Award from Dismas House, a halfway house in Nashville for men recently released from prison. Deacon Bainbridge was honored for his 35 years in prison ministry. The award was presented at Dismas House’s first Forgiveness Dinner fundraiser. Tennessee Register file photo by Theresa Laurence
In 1976, shortly after Frank Bainbridge’s ordination as a permanent deacon, he struck up a friendship with the late Father Jack Hickey and the late Deacon Bill Steltemeier. Those friendships launched his 35-year journey ministering to prisoners, listening to their stories, never losing sight of their dignity as human beings.
In recognition of that long service, the Dismas House, a halfway house in Nashville for men recently released from prison, presented to Deacon Bainbridge its inaugural Compassionate Leadership Award.
Deacon Bainbridge was very humbled to receive the Compassionate Leadership Award, which was presented at the Dismas House’s first Forgiveness Dinner fundraiser on Saturday, May 2.
“This isn’t about me,” Deacon Bainbridge said about the award. “I really hope that through my work that others come to understand Jesus’ compassion for sinners and His love for all of us.”
The late Father Hickey was the Catholic chaplain at Vanderbilt University in 1974 when he founded Dismas House as a partnership between Vanderbilt students and men recently released from prison. He named the residential program after the thief who asked Jesus for forgiveness as they were both crucified.
Father Hickey was a mentor to Deacon Bainbridge early in his prison ministry.
Deacon Steltemeir was a member of same ordination class as Deacon Bainbridge and encouraged him to enter prison ministry.
“This is the first time we’ve honored someone with this award,” said Dan Surface, chief executive officer of Dismas House. “We were looking for someone who embodied many of the qualities that Father Hickey brought to his service in prison ministry.
“It needed to be someone who shows compassion to the less fortunate; someone who believes strongly in the value of every person’s life and exemplifies the Gospel message of forgiveness and second chances,” Surface said. “These are the values that Dismas House abides by every day, and Deacon Bainbridge lives those characteristics out in his daily life.”
On any given day, an average of eight men are living at Dismas House. They stay for a minimum of 90 days and receive counseling for personal problems, help in finding steady employment, assistance in reconciling with their families, and the supportive friendship of volunteers such as Deacon Bainbridge.
“When Deacon Bainbridge was giving his acceptance speech for the award, he spoke to all of us of the impact that friendship and a listening ear can have on people who are down and out,” Surface said. “He said that for these men who come from very broken lives, just the simple acts of treating them as human beings and listening to their stories without imposing an agenda on them makes a world of difference. When they’re in prison, they’re not treated as human beings. They’re treated as numbers.”
Surface and his co-workers see their budding friendships with these men as the highlights of their workdays.
“Since we’re a halfway house, obviously our ultimate goal is to help these men get back on their feet and move forward with their lives,” he said. “But, while they’re with us, getting to know them and really listening to their struggles, fears and hopes for their future is the most inspiring thing for the staff and volunteers at Dismas House. We try to provide a non-judgmental atmosphere where all are welcome. Many of the men who come to us say that we’ve given them the first real home that they’ve ever known.”
During his years of active volunteering in prison ministry, Deacon Bainbridge tried to live that compassion out to the best of his ability.
“I never thought of my volunteerism as a one way street, where I ministered to other people,” he said. “I hope that for me, the men I’ve met, and other ex-convicts and prison ministry volunteers that it’s a back and forth relationship. I hope that everyone involved really takes the chance to see into each other’s hearts. Many of these former prisoners have gone through tragic things and need someone to empathize with them and see where they’ve come from.”