Bridges International was founded by Frank Costantino, an ex-felon who was released in January of 1972 from the Florida Department of Corrections. Frank Costantino was sentenced to a 22 ½ year prison term for burglary and other related crimes. He accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of his life two years before he was paroled. “And it changed my life completely.”
Upon leaving prison, Frank had a calling and an urge to return and share with other prisoners his testimony of God’s transforming love. The chaplain at Raeford Prison, Rev. Max Jones, asked if he would be willing to return to the prison and talk to the prisoners. After careful consideration Frank agreed.
Frank observed men repeating the cycle of the revolving door time after time. He realized that releasing an inmate with $100 and a suit of clothes did little or nothing to change the course of the man’s life. He said that people are incarcerated for making bad choices and the penal system was not addressing that fundamental issue. The average person in society makes about 200 decisions a day and when they are arrested most of their decisions are made for them, such as when to eat, sleep or shower. But when they are released they are once again expected to make about 200 decisions and now they can’t be bad ones. So, in 1976, Frank founded “Christian Prison Ministries” as a way to be part of the solution. This gave him and others an opportunity to share the Gospel with other prisoners and to this end the theme, “Believe a Man Can Change,” was created.
As Frank began to share his story in the prisons in his spare time and listen to their concerns and fears of returning and going back, he quickly recognized that the number one problem is twofold: not only do they need gainful employment, but they also need a place to stay with an address and telephone number in order to seek it. Frank determined something was needed in between prison and society to bridge the gap.
During the early 80’s, the drug culture changed and crack cocaine became the drug of choice which created a crime epidemic. The increase of crime eventually resulted in overcrowded prisons. He determined that a diversion program was needed before they even reached the penal system. Another program would treat inmates before returning to the community and deal with community reentry, assisting them in making the essential connection within the community.
Frank said, “Releasing a person back into society without treating the problem is just plain wrong.”In 1980, Frank opened up the first “After-care” resident program in Orlando, Florida to provide a bridge long enough to get them to the other side. The Bridges International contract with The Florida Department of Corrections for The Orlando Bridge began a partnership that provided a work-release program with a substance abuse overlay to address drug and alcohol problems.
Frank realized that if the inmates did not deal with the underlying problems which contributed to their incarceration that they would return and leave “a hole in time.”He said, “While I was in prison vague concepts began to come into focus. It seemed as though everyone was, to some extent, a prisoner of their own personality, motivated by forces beyond their control. One thing seemed apparent through it all. Takers are losers and people who don’t care leave holes in time. ”What started as a local ministry has now parlayed into a worldwide vision that serves over 10,000 inmates and offenders daily.
Bishop Frank Costantino passed away in April of 2006, however his vision and legacy lives. Lori Costantino-Brown, Frank’s daughter, was appointed by the Board of Directors to continue the vision and leadership of Bridges International. Lori has further enhanced the programs and continued Frank’s bequest to meet the needs of evidence-based treatment in the 21st century. The Bridge program is an International presence with programs and outreach ministries in countries on four continents. The program was founded on the basis of the “Holistic approach to recovery” predicated on the 12-Step model. We have followed the same basis for 30 years while increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the program and increasing the quality of care for the person served.