NOTES FROM THE VILLAGE is a bi-quarterly, community-sourced, digital correspondence that reaches nearly 150 incarcerated adult citizens of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities.

NOTES FROM THE VILLAGE helps to create and exchange of insights, information, and inspirations between people.


Our entire use of the term “village” serves to denote a certain ethnocentricity. We are most intentional in our subscription to the African proverb “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it’s warmth.” And it is from this realm of Afrocentricity that we approach the mission of NOTES FROM THE VILLAGE.

NOTES FROM THE VILLAGE is a collection of hopes, insights and affirmations for incarcerated men of color.

We use this term “men of color” as a designation because people of color are disproportionally represented in today’s prison system and court-involved populations and grossly underserved by the system of incarceration and rehabilitation. Our interest and services extend to all incarcerated persons.

NOTES FROM THE VILLAGE is a collaboration between EXTENDED OUTREACH Ministry Initiatives and Services and Elite Community Growth Collective.

The mission of EXTENDED OUTREACH Ministry Initiatives and Services is “to promote and provide intentional, hands-on, and progressive INVITATION, WELCOME, ENGAGEMENT, AFFIRMATION and EMBRACE to all people while providing basic human and social services.”

Elite Community Growth Collective (ECGC) https://elitecgc.org/ is a nonprofit organization and the social service arm of Elite Career Solutions, an agency highly recognized for providing work readiness training, job placement, and career development services to several of the “hardest-to-employ” populations including low-skilled workers, returning citizens, disconnected youth, and persons with disability.

     Director :

    Darnell Ishmel

ABOUT ME and how I came to be involved in this work
As a credentialed minister, a concerned taxpayer, and a person of color, I am troubled by the effects of mass incarceration and lifelong sentencing on the conscience of America…particularly among people of faith. In October 2019, I received a first contact reply from a man who – having entered incarceration in 1968 at age 17 – asserted, and later reconfirmed, that in all the 50-plus years of his confinement no man from his faith community ever attempted to communicate with him. (Pause. Consider. Read on.)

Since then, I have sent thousands of JPay messages communicating with upwards of 250 people and have traveled more than 6,000 round trip miles to 12 different prisons for nearly 100 hours of individual visits with more than a dozen inmates. After doing all of this I speak to the one inmate who had not heard from his community of faith in 50 years. This saddens me deeply.

I am often asked the question: “How and Why did you get involved with outreach to incarcerated brothers?” Let me say…I am perhaps the most unlikely of persons to be doing this kind of outreach work. I’m not a well-schooled expert in the field of mass incarceration. None of this was planned.

My great grandfather was born a slave, my grandmother was a sharecropper, and as a young small child my mother picked cotton in the sweltering heat of the Mississippi Delta before her family escaped north in a wagon and under the cover of night. As a first-generation college student, only four generations removed from the manacles of American Slavery, I’ve traveled to 18 countries, I’ve sung opera in 5 different languages, and have twice now conducted the singing of the National Anthem on the international broadcasts of CNN’s Democratic Presidential Debates (2016 and 2019). For all these and a multitude of other reasons, I am, perhaps, one of the most unlikely of persons to be doing outreach to the incarcerated.

I first started writing to prisoners in October 2011 as a way to reconnect and provide moral support for several errant youth and young adults who were absent from our community and local church where I attended. My intent was to let them know they are not forgotten while being isolated inside, the community outside can connect with them to provide spiritual, social, and emotional jail ministry support services from us who are outside. help connect those on the inside with those on the outside for social, emotional, spiritual, and other ministerial support services.

As a church lay person and community volunteer, I first started writing to brothers behind bars in October 2011. At that time, the aim was to help connect those on the inside with those on the outside for social, emotional, spiritual, and other ministerial support services. This is when I discovered JPay.com. I set up an account so that the fellow ministers at the church would be able to write to the men and help keep them connected and encouraged.

In late October of 2017, it became necessary to form an organization to carry the mission, as I was in contact with more than 40 incarcerated brothers. By the opening of the year 2020, Notes From The Village was striving to manage connections with upwards of 200 incarcerated brothers. And then Covid-19 came through the prison like a sickle.

In November of 2020, I was appointed the Michigan State Coordinator for Abolition Apostles, a national abolitionist jail and prison ministry.  . And in January 2021, I began the 2nd semester of my doctoral program at Pacific School of Religion where the focus of my capstone project aims to learn more about faith formation and expressions behind the wall and (2) to help chart and better understand what free-world faith communities are doing to help celled people address issues of COVID-19.

If you are compelled to help, become involved in any way or desire more information, please feel free to contact me directly at darnell.ishmel@gmail.com or (920) 474-6351.

Blessings and be well,