Deep-Freeze Criminals

Kirby was a prison inmate who just wanted to start over. But when he was released from prison, the state put a mere $100 in his pocket. With that $100, Kirby had to buy food, find an apartment, and get a job. "Needless to say, I failed," Kirby said in a letter to Prison Fellowship, "and I turned back to crime." Few of us realize how difficult it is for ex-prisoners to re-enter the outside world. During their prison tenure, they lose marketable skills, break off with friends, and are often deserted by their families. No wonder many end up right back in jail. And no wonder most crimes are committed by repeat criminals. Crime is the only way of life they know, the only skill they have. Across America today, public fear about crime is epidemic. Lawmakers are clamoring for tougher laws, stiffer sentences. But if we really want to get tough on crime, there are strategies politicians never talk about. One of the most effective is helping ex-prisoners break the cycle of crime. Here at Prison Fellowship we hold Life Plan Seminars behind bars. Aimed at prisoners about to be released, Life Plan Seminars teach them how to set realistic goals for getting a job, finding a place to live, and building a support network. When prisoners are released, Life Plan tries to match each one with a volunteer mentor, who is often an ex-convict himself. The mentor offers support during the first six months in the outside world—the time when the risk is highest for falling back into crime. For long-term support, Prison Fellowship volunteers organize Philemon Fellowships, groups of former prisoners who meet to encourage one another. Even such elementary tasks as getting a driver's license can be a hurdle to someone who for years has had no responsibility for his own life. Philemon Fellowships are named after the book in the Bible, which is a letter from Paul to man named Philemon urging him to restore a runaway slave. The slave had converted and was now eager to reform his life. In essence, Paul used his personal influence to reinstate the slave to his former job. This is the kind of practical support all ex-prisoners need if they're going to make it in the outside world. If you manage a business, you might even consider hiring reliable ex-convicts. An inmate named Donald says his prison experience reminds him of a movie he once saw: It was a fantasy film about a Rip Van Winkle character who was frozen in ice for several years and then thawed out to face a world he no longer understood. "That is what they are doing to most convicts," Donald said bitterly. "They arrest us, freeze us, and thaw us out"—without giving us a clue how to start over. If Americans are serious about fighting crime, we need to stop putting prisoners in deep freeze. Read Prison Fellowship's new book Staying Safe to find out how you can help an ex-convict go straight. Let's stand beside them as they walk the often precarious line from crime to freedom.


Chuck Colson


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