| Dear Ministry Friends:
One of the most important movements in criminal justice during the last 10 years is the proliferation of Faith Based Dorms in Jails and Prisons across the nation.
I firmly believe that this will in time change the way prisons are managed.
Faith Based Dorms work by developing a "positive inmate subculture." Actually the way prisons are traditionally managed is among the poorest ways to manage human beings. All of modern management training stands in contrast to traditional prison management. Faith Based Dorms are leading the way in new prison management techniques.
Horizon Communities spun out of Kairos Prison Ministries and is now among the very best of the organizations which manage Faith Based Dorms.
The attached editorial demonstrates how people are now catching onto the effectiveness of such programming. A prison administrator recently told me that he looked forward to doubling and tripling the number of faith based beds in Texas prisons.
Happy New Years to you and keep on going,
Emmett Solomon, Director
Restorative Justice Ministries Network
1229 Avenue J
Huntsville, TX 77340
Hope on Horizon
Prison program gives inmates an opportunity to change
December 31, 2006
by Carroll Wilson, Editor
Wichita Falls Times Record News
A few days ago, I was behind bars.
The last time I was looking out rather than in, the Allred unit was just about to start receiving its first group of inmates.
Even empty, the place bristled with a feral hostility.
The atmosphere tripped the fight-or-flight switch in my brain.
The prison didn't bear any resemblance to a country club then, and it didn't look like one on my recent visit.
This time, for some reason, all I felt as I stood in the waiting room was sadness.
Allred is a brick-and-mortar testament to failure.
It represents the fact that even in America the veneer of civilization is thin indeed.
And it is solid proof that Texans choose to warehouse prisoners - out of sight and out of mind.
There is no universal rehab program at Allred. Job training is minimal. If an inmate wants to do anything but eat or sleep, there's a waiting list.
I went to the prison at the request of Judy Taylor, who works with a program called Horizon.
Allred is the only lockup in Texas with the Horizon program.
And only a few prisons in other states offer it.
That's almost criminal in itself.
Very briefly, here's how Horizon works: A director and volunteers partner up with the state. The outsiders are given a small office. And those inmates who participate are housed in a one cell block.
Horizon has a faith-based curriculum that is comprehensive and very well-planned.
God and a human's relationship with God and how a person must respond to God's call - those are at the center of the program.
Yes, some lessons involve the tenets of Christianity. But, Taylor said that Muslims, Jews and men of other faiths have been participants.
For two hours almost every night of the week, volunteer teachers lead Horizon classes. Let me emphasize that: two hours almost every night, not one hour on Sunday morning.
In the Horizon area, I sat with about a dozen men who had recently graduated.
After more than 40 years in journalism, I'm nothing if not skeptical about what any inmate has to say. I've never talked to a prisoner or received a letter from a prisoner who acknowledged he was guilty as charged.
I had a very different feeling about these guys. They admitted they had pulled guns on people, broken into homes, done drugs and so on.
They admitted they had hurt their families.
They weren't ooshy-gooshy in their religion. They certainly weren't sanctimonious.
As much as possible, they did seem to have found peace.
They knew they deserved punishment for what they'd done.
But, what, they asked in one way or another, about mercy and justice?
Is justice served when a man is given no hope? Is justice served when he is offered no opportunity to better himself? Is justice served when his sentence is so much different than someone else who did the same thing? Is justice served if there is no rehabilitation program, no training program, no educational program, no protection from gangs?
Horizon, one inmate told me, "is the most effective. This is the best. Put people into something like this. The individual has to change. That's the first thing that has to happen. The person has to change."
In Texas prisons, will a person change for the better? Or for the worse?
My money, literally and tragically, is on the latter.
Except for those guys in Horizon.
They see something beyond the sunrise and the sunset.
They do seem to see hope.
And that's hard enough to do when you're sitting on a cushion in the pew of a church, thinking about having lunch at Luby's.
Carroll Wilson's column appears in this space on Sundays. For more columns by Wilson, visit www.TimesRecordNews.com and click on Opinions. Wilson, the editor of the Times Record News, can be reached by calling (940) 720-3435.
Copyright 2006, Times Record News. All Rights Reserved.