Prison

More Religion, Less Juvenile Crime

From 1985 to 1994, the rates at which 14- to 17-year-old males committed murder doubled for whites and tripled for blacks. Juveniles carried out about 137,000 more violent crimes in 1994 than they had in 1985. A 1996 report issued by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), “Combating Violence and Delinquency,” warned that “juvenile arrest rates for violent crimes will more than double by the year 2010.”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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The School of Second Chances

In an innovative move, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, recently began a two-year pilot project offering college-level courses to convicted felons serving time at the high-security Cheshire Correctional Institution. The Center for Prison Education program provides undergraduate-level courses to a small class of male inmates who were selected in a blind admissions process; reviewers were unaware of the crimes or sentences of the applicants. More than 120 inmates from Cheshire applied to the program; 19 were admitted.

“We believe that educational opportunity should be a fundamental right, and recognize that a college education enables effective citizenship,” Russell Perkins, a fellow at the Center for Prison Education, told Sojourners. “The program offers an innovative way for Wesleyan to embody its long-standing commitments to social justice and civic engagement,” Perkins said. The program was initiated by two Wesleyan undergraduates, based on Bureau of Prisons data that indicated the more education an inmate received, the lower the recidivism rate. The Wesleyan program is unique in Connecticut, which has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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The Story of Your Life

What if you took the elements that make a great story in screenwriting or novels, and you began to apply them to your life? In other words, if at the end of a movie you feel this sense of fulfillment when the credits are rolling, what if you could feel that at the end of a year, or a lifetime? How would you structure your life differently?

The principles of a good story are just this: a character who wants something and is willing to overcome conflict to get it.

And what we want matters. Imagine if I wrote a screenplay: This character works in a grocery store, and he decides that he wants a Volvo. And he works for three years and overcomes this hard boss that he has, and at the end of the movie, he gets the Volvo. He’s driving off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. Are you crying at the end of this movie? Are you saying to yourself, “If he can have the Volvo, I can have the Volvo?” No, you’re not.

There’s nothing wrong with driving a Volvo or living in a nice house. But if that’s what our story is about, we shouldn’t expect to feel any different at the end than we would if we were to see it on the screen.

I wrote a book about growing up without a dad, and I met my dad recently for the first time in 30 years, so I’m acutely aware that in America we have 27 million kids growing up without a dad; 85 percent of the people in prison grew up in a fatherless home. We have 360,000 churches—if each church would just mentor 20 kids, we would shut down an enormous number of prisons in our country. So I wrote down this new ambition: I want to start mentoring programs in churches all across our country.

What happens when you find a good ambition is, you’re going to get scared. If there’s no risk, there’s no story. And the best stories are the ones where you could lose your life telling the story. And you might. You could get ridiculed. What if God wants you to give all your money to start this program?

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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