Peace as Service and Hospitality: Origins of Dismas House

Peace can come in many forms. Two of these forms are service and hospitality. How do we treat our neighbors? A quote by Dr. Albert Schweitzer hangs in our living room: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know. The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have learned to serve.” We have been involved in serving others throughout our lives.

From 1974 to 1987 we were involved with the United Religious Community prison ministry. As chairperson of the Ex-Offender Task Force. Wanda coordinated volunteers to go to the Indiana state Prison several Monday evenings a month. We met with a small group of inmates in the visiting room. Through this program we became acquainted with Alex Lewis, an African American in his mid-60s. He had a life sentence and had been incarcerated 31½ years.

Alex was known as “Flying Home” while in prison. In the 1940s Alex Lewis came to Fort Wayne from the south and was working in a tire shop. While working there he became involved in the death of a lady. He fled to Florida and was apprehended there. The authorities needed to extradite Alex back to Fort Wayne. When Fort Wayne flew a man to Florida to bring Alex back to Fort Wayne the sheriff asked, “How will you get him back?” Fort Wayne said they would fly him back. The reply was “No, you can’t do that because of segregation.” All forms of transportation were denied. A Black authority then drove down and picked him up. A Fort Wayne journalist wrote up an article about the problems of getting Alex back to Fort Wayne titled “Flying Home”, and when Alex finally arrived at the Indiana State Prison, the title stuck.

With a change in the penal code, Alex had a chance to make parole if he had a sponsor. He lived with us about five years. While he lived with us he maintained the Fair Cemetery, and that was his pride and joy. He received many praises for his work. He also attended and became a member of Pine Creek Church.

Soon after Alex came to live with us we took him to Florida to visit his three sisters. He had not seen them while in prison and had lost contact with them, so this was a good experience for him. We also took him to a little community called Fellsmere where he had lived many years ago. We located three of his friends with whom he had worked in the sugarcane fields.

Through the URC Ex-Offender Task Force, we spearheaded the efforts to purchase a halfway house for newly released prisoners. We put many hours of work into renovating the house. In 1987 Dismas of Michiana became a reality.

We are presently members of the Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition and the Immigration Coalition.

Peace and service have been cornerstones of our lives.

By Wanda and Galen Mangus