The mission of Dismas House of Nashville is to facilitate the reconciliation of former inmates to society, and society to former inmates through development of supportive communities. A supportive community is characterized by students and former inmates living together in a family setting, the active involvement of volunteers from the broader community, and a spirit of open and participative decision making and sharing across the Dismas network, with an emphasis on the common good.
Dismas House of Nashville is a 501(c)(3) transitional housing program that serves men recently released from incarceration. In 1974, the late Father Jack Hickey, O.P., along with The Vanderbilt Prison Project (a student organization), recognized the vulnerability of and lack of services available to individuals released from incarceration in Middle Tennessee. Dismas was then founded on the idea that by living together, former inmates and college students would mutually benefit each other as they assimilate into mainstream society. The Dismas program takes its name from the repentant thief at Calvary (Luke 23:39-43), in the spirit of welcoming forgiveness.
Programming creates a family-like atmosphere; hence the slogan, “Dismas is Family.” This slogan personifies a value system that recognizes the dignity and worth of all. While at Dismas, residents often reconnect and rebuild relationships with their own family members as well. Through community involvement, residents learn how to positively interact in social settings without the fear of having to maintain “institutionalized” survival mechanisms. Along with staff, members of the broader community welcome returning citizens back into mainstream society, offer support, and strive to empower residents so they depart Dismas as an active and positive member of society.
Services provide for immediate security of basic human needs, such as shelter, food, and clothing, of which, many new residents may be without. Participants of the Dismas program are required to stay a minimum of 90 days, participate in the development and execution of a client-specific re-entry plan, participate in programming, uphold positive standards of living, and be an active member of the household and community. Holistic programming assists the former inmate progress toward self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal, by focusing on positive social behaviors, overcoming addictive behaviors and other health concerns, long-term housing, and building wealth. In addition to tangible gains, successful program participants are likely to depart Dismas with a greater sense of self-worth and an optimistic outlook.