IMG_4761In South Bend, Ind., there is a place where formerly incarcerated individuals are given a second chance. Dismas House (named for the repentant thief at the cross) puts recently released offenders and college students in the same residence, where they can grow and learn together.

According to the Dismas website, the idea for the program was conceived in 1974, when Father Jack Hickey and some Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.) students had the idea that college students and former criminals could live together in community.

The project proved successful, and has since launched a second house in South Bend, where Bethel Alumna Mary Pottenger ’15 serves as the Dismas Designs Project Manager.

“Basically, we’re trying to help them reenter into society,” says Pottenger, who was an art and psychology major at Bethel.

She first heard about Dismas through Bethel’s annual service day. After spending the day working there, Pottenger knew she someday wanted to volunteer with the organization. It wasn’t until she was job searching as a senior that she came across an internship opportunity with Dismas through the Career Services Pinterest page, and remembered her earlier experience. At the conclusion of her internship, Pottenger was offered a full-time job with the group. Now she works to spread awareness about Dismas, while teaching jewelry-making workshops to the residents at the house. The jewelry they make is sold to help support their needs.

Dismas offers classes and workshops that ultimately help the residents reshape their lives and find employment. To Pottenger, these workshops are fundamental in easing the residents’ transitions back to normal life, a transition that she noted was much more difficult than she expected.

“I didn’t realize how hard it is for people when they come out of prison. Using technology is difficult. They don’t know how to write resumes. Having what they’ve done on their record makes getting a job hard. Nobody wants [to hire] you,” says Pottenger. “It’s like you have to prove yourself to the world.”

For those who are fortunate enough to live at the Dismas House, however, the odds of success increase dramatically. The Dismas website states, “While the National Institute of Justice reports an approximate recidivism rate of 72 percent, the Dismas House tracks its own recidivism rate to less than 25 percent.”

To Pottenger, the reason for this success is obvious. “It’s such a small place that people don’t get lost in the program. No one can fall through the cracks,” says Pottenger, who emphasized this point: “We’re like a family.”

For more on the Dismas House, visit

To inquire about purchasing jewelry, contact Mary Pottenger at or call 574-233-8522.