Breakpoint Commentary #71021 - 10/21/97
I’ve just returned from a very unusual weekend—one that reminded me of a spiritual retreat. The governor of Texas, George Bush, was there, singing hymns with an enthusiastic choir. One man after another testified of God’s grace in his life. Tears were shed and there were many hugs.
But this was no woodsy retreat center. It was a Texas prison. And what’s going on there offers a glimpse of what America needs to do to break the vicious cycle of crime.
Last April Prison Fellowship opened the first "Christian prison" in America. It’s in a special wing of a minimum security prison called Jester II in Sugarland, Texas. The program is called InnerChange, and its goal is nothing less than the transformation of inmates’ hearts.
Except for prison security, virtually every aspect of the InnerChange wing is run by Prison Fellowship. And the regimen is far from easy. Fifty-seven inmates—many of whom have long rap sheets—volunteered for InnerChange. They get up at 5:00 a.m. every day for devotions. They spend the day working at a job or studying for their high school equivalency exam. They also attend classes to develop their life skills and spiritual maturity. Evenings are filled with more Christian teaching and discipleship seminars that run until 10:00 p.m.
During Phase 2 of the program, inmates must perform community service, and they’re encouraged to apologize and make restitution to their victims. Six months into the program, each inmate is matched with a church volunteer who mentors them during their remaining time in prison. The mentor also spends six months following the inmate’s release, helping them adjust back into the community.
Will the intense Christian focus make a difference at Jester II?
The most dramatic proof that it will is the prison it is modeled after—the Humaita prison in Brazil. Prison Fellowship has run this prison for 25 years, and its faith-based policies have met with miraculous and indisputable success. Inmates at Humaita have a recidivism rate of less than 5 percent, compared to more than 75 percent for prisoners who leave other Brazilian prisons.
If Jester II works anywhere near that well, it could be a great witness to this country. It would show that in America’s prisons—the place where every other approach has failed—the Gospel can succeed in dramatically transforming lives.
There’s a broader lesson here as well. Many Americans cannot understand why every moral index is plummeting at a time when 41 percent of Americans attend church every Sunday. I believe Jester II suggests the answer. When Christianity is just a Sunday-morning ritual, it has little effect beyond the individual. But when faith is lived out around the clock, the surrounding culture is transformed as well.
At Jester II the inmates bring their faith into their work, into their studies, and into their relations with others. The result was easy to see when I was there recently. The warden told me that the whole place is different: cleaner, safer, with few inmate violations.
Isn’t it just like God that He would use a bunch of prison inmates to set an example for the rest of us?
Pray for the inmates and volunteers of Jester II. Their success can be an inspiration, not only to other inmates, but also to correctional officials across the country.
If we’re ever going to see the crime rate go down, we have to do more than simply lock criminals up. We must transform their hearts through faith in Jesus Christ.
Used by permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Copyright (c) 1997