“Changed Lives: Theirs and Mine”

Tags: prison  theology  faith   Prison Fellowship

In 1974 Chuck Colson former top aide to President Nixon pled guilty to obstruction of justice on a Watergate-related charge and served seven months in a federal prison.  That same year I was completing my second year as Research and Training Director in a metropolitan juvenile court in Texas.  Both of our lives were changed through our experiences.  Chuck Colson went on to found Prison Fellowship. I went on to graduate school–first Criminal Justice and Criminology and later to graduate studies in Theology.

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I never personally met Chuck Colson, but our paths have crossed.  In the prison where I took students to see a piece of prison life I now lead a Prison Fellowship Reentry group.

Prison Fellowship believes that a restorative approach to prisoners, former prisoners, and those affected by crime and incarceration can make communities safer and healthier. The faith-based approach emphasizes hope, healing, and a new purpose for each life based on Christian principles

Why Help Prisoners?

  • 2.2 million men and women are in prison.
  • 95% of prisoners are released.
  • This year 600,000 will return to their communities.
  • 2 of 3 are rearrested.
  • 2.7 million children have a parent in prison.
  • [See https://www.prisonfellowship.org/ ]

Prison Fellowship uses faith-based programs to show that through God’s love revealed through Jesus Christ there is hope for change and a better life for prisoners and their families.  Prison Fellowship provides training for volunteers to work with offenders inside and outside of prison in support of restorative justice.  Programs for wardens, prison staff, and volunteers provide alternatives to create safer, more rehabilitative prisons that prepare prisoners to return to their communities as good neighbors.

For more than 40 years, Prison Fellowship has been going into correctional facilities, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those behind bars, and offering the hope of positive life change.  Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers use Bible-based programs coupled with life skills resources to help offenders who are committed to work at real change in their lives and attain the hope of a promising future free of irresponsible and criminal behavior.

Chuck Colson saw firsthand from his time in prison that paying for crime through incarceration has its costs, not only to government budgets but to prisoners, their families, and to society.  Protecting society and isolating prisoners from the gangs, drugs, and crime associates related to criminal acts also means they are cut off from spouses, their children, positive family members, friends and employers that help them stay “straight.”  Few prison inmates maintain relationships with those outside prison in the months and years of incarceration.  This partly explains the high rate of repeat offending upon release.

Prison Fellowship is actively involved in helping inmates make a positive adjustment upon their release.  Reentry preparation begins in the prisons with life-skills and personal responsibility training, rebuilding lost relationships with family members, and developing a plan for a crime-free life.

Outside correctional facilities Prison Fellowship volunteers serve as mentors to newly released prison inmates and help them connect with churches, employers, and local service providers to help them support themselves, their families and loved ones.

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Changing Lives and the Justice Process

Criminal behavior hurts people, instills fear, and undermines our sense of public safety.  Criminal justice should set things right by helping victims, reduce fear through making communities safer, and hold offenders accountable while providing opportunities for positive change.

Our nation’s focus on punishment and mass incarceration does not provide justice or public safety for victims or communities because offenders come out of prisons worse than when they went in.  The small number of prison employees involved in education and rehabilitation do their best to reverse that reality, but it is not enough.  Police, courts, probation, and parole officers are overwhelmed as resources and budget limitations fail to meet their needs.

New approaches to preventing and responding to crime are clearly needed.  Crime is a community problem.  “Community justice” is one alternative to reduce that problem. Prison Fellowship is an example of encouraging communities to play a role in creating a safe and just society helping to change those responsible for crime.

“Remember those who are in prison, as though you yourselves were in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3).

“…I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:36).

Thousands of volunteers meet weekly with jail and prison residents.  Lives are changed: theirs and ours. 

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