Fighting Recidivism with Resurrection

By Mary Nelson 3-25-2008

On Easter Sunday sermons about new life and transformation, resurrection and redemption abound. At our church we celebrated the baptism of a young man living in a half way house and doing work-release in our community. The genuine hugs and welcome from the mostly black congregation for this young white man were warm and genuine. One church member sponsors work release, another church member picks up the four to five who come for events and church, and this young man felt touched by God in the welcoming community. He stood holding the baptismal candle and asked God and us for help for the journey of restoration ahead.

Three to four thousand people are released each year into our low income, African American, two square mile community. National statistics show a 67% recidivism rate, with costly results in human lives and our national pocketbooks. Congressman Danny Davis has been pushing and cajoling Congress for six years to pass the Second Chance Act, helping former inmates reenter our communities with funding for job training, substance abuse treatments, housing, tutoring, etc. The bill finally passed the House and Senate.

In his summation, Congressman Davis noted that major religions speak about resurrection and redemption, and that is how lawmakers should view helping ex-offenders reenter society and rebuild lives. He went on to say, "We are a country that preaches redemption in our churches, synagogues, and mosques. That we can practice what we have preached is what we want to show with this measure."

It will take God's touch in peoples lives, people willing to reach out and help, along with government's assistance to really reclaim the many lives from incarceration and recidivism. This is but a small, hopeful start to new life.

Mary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners.

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