self sabotage

A guy with a parole in his pocket gets caught with spud juice.  (Happens more often than you would think.)  His “friends” tried to talk him into closing his brewery, but he told them that he needed to stack up coffee bags since he was going to Detroit Reentry Center (DRC) for a residential substance abuse program and he needed to be able to buy heroin while he was there.  His friend’s comment was I guess he didn’t really want to go home.

Guys on parole are sent back to prison for violating the terms of their parole because of drinking or drugs all the time.  Equally as often it is something else like staying out after curfew, missing work or meetings with their PO or having police contact because they got into a fight or were out joy-riding.  This happened to a guy I know, and the observation of another parolee was “I guess he didn’t serve enough time.”

Whether in prison or on parole some guys have their eyes on the wrong prize.  Instead of focusing on gaining and keeping their freedom they are seeking other things.  You’d thing they would know better than to play with fire, but it’s obvious that they didn’t learn their lesson from being burned the first time.  For some it takes a long time to figure out what is truly important.  There is statistical proof that people age out of crime.  People in their forties and fifties are significantly less likely to commit crimes than people in their teens and twenties.  Prison has a revolving door for those who continue to commit minor felonies and receive sentences from 2-5 years in length.  Three strike laws were enacted to address these habitual offenders by increasing the length of their sentences in the hope that they would learn their lesson. 

According to recidivism rates those who committed major crimes such as murder or rape and served long sentences are less likely to reoffend and return to prison than those who committed crimes like domestic abuse or selling small quantities of drugs who received shorter sentences.  You never hear of someone who spent two 10 to 20-year sentences in prison going back with a third sentence which is basically a life sentence.  So, it is true that with age comes wisdom.  Even the most stubborn, hard-headed, strong-willed outlaw learns that if they stay in the game too long there are only two options, either be carried out in a pine box or hauled off in handcuffs.  The older they get the better retirement looks.

For those in prison eagerly looking forward to their parole there is another form of sabotage that happens.  Sometimes other people in prison, who may have years to go before they will even be considered for parole or have already been denied parole will try to get someone else’s parole revoked.  You might say that misery loves company.  There are those in prison who would go out of their way to do this for any number of reasons.  They could be bored, racist, malicious, vindictive, or simply sadistic by getting pleasure from causing pain to another person.  For this very reason I know a guy who didn’t tell anyone in prison that he got his parole, let alone his parole date.  The morning he paroled, he got up early, dressed in his street clothes, packed his stuff, and went to the officer’s station.  He didn’t say a word to anyone.

In prison kite writing is a way of life for some.  Kites are notes written to the administration.  There is a mailbox in every housing unit, and it is easy to write the warden or unit counselor.  Most do this by signing someone else’s name in order to remain anonymous.  They make allegations about another individual which may or may not be true, but sufficiently provocative to draw the reaction of staff.  This is known as “dry snitching.”  It is a passive aggressive tactic that works well enough that it’s not going away any time soon.  Claim that someone is threating you, that so-n-so is doing such-n-such, or that your bunkie has a cellphone, shank, drugs, or other serious contraband, then sit back and wait for the show to start.  Nothing can ruin your day like being called off the yard to see the Inspector to answer questions about an allegation that you sexually assaulted another inmate.

Getting a Class I Misconduct after receiving your parole and prior to release will result in the loss of your parole and earn you a 12 to 24-month flop.  It might even raise your security level or get you rode off the compound.  At the very least you will have your property tossed like a fruit salad, be forced to prove your innocence, and lose sleep trying to figure out who wrote the kite.  In a place where you are guilty until proven innocent the threat is real, and you need to constantly watch your back. 

I had a cubemate that started stealing from me the last month prior to my parole.  I had started to sell off my possessions that I wasn’t going to take home.  Prison is not like death, you can take your personal property with you, but why would you?  I would come back to the cube after work and find something small missing like my earbuds.  We both knew that I wouldn’t do anything about it and risk my parole, so every couple of days something else would turn up missing.  Then this guy who didn’t have anything was able to get a black market TV.  I’m sure my other cubemates knew what was going on, but nobody said anything.  On the morning I left prison I slipped under his bed and used my padlock to secure the TV’s power cord to the bed.  This would force him to cut the cord in order to move the TV.  There were a number of sweeps through the housing unit at that time looking for TV’s that weren’t on the inmate’s property card and securing the TV to his bunk would make it impossible for him to hide it.  I hope that there is a special place in hell for prison thieves.

Of course, it is those that sabotage themselves like in my opening example that is the primary problem.  Prison isn’t about rehabilitation.  Programs like the Phase I and Phase II substance abuse classes that are required for those whose crime involved alcohol or drugs or for individuals who have a history of substance abuse, but from what I’ve seem most people treat the class like a joke.  For more serious cases there are residential treatment programs where more in-depth programming and counseling is available. With the demand for bed space in these programs there tends to be a mentality on the part of those running these programs to simply push the inmates through so that many of the participants come out unchanged.  Change doesn’t happen unless the individual wants to and for many going to prison wasn’t hitting rock-bottom yet.  Intellectual arguments, reciting facts and figures, or telling horror stories about others isn’t enough to persuade many who are happy in their addictions to want to change.  They have learned to say the right things to convince the powers that be that they have changed.  They get their long-awaited paroles but can’t fly straight long enough to get out or complete their parole.  In the end the only person they have fooled is themselves.

Teaching Morals Not Respect

In the MDOC there were nearly 1500 assaults in 2015 including over 100 resulting in serious injury or death.  This is down from the previous year and breaks a trend of increasing violence.  This is roughly 3.5% of the prison population, and certainly many assaults were not reported.  I myself was assaulted twice in 2014 at the hands of gang members carrying out ‘hits’ at the direction of their leaders for things I didn’t even have a part in, just collateral damage due to paranoid delusions.

Much of this violence is the result of perceived disrespect.  In prison, respect and the demands to receive it from the others around them is a major focus for some. I observed this mainly from those who grew up on the streets under the influence of gangs rather than in homes under the influence of parents, especially fathers; or from those in broken homes who spent time in the foster care system.

The main difference I believe is that in a properly functioning family the parents teach their children morals, as opposed to the gang subculture that focuses on respect only. Morals are defined as rules and habits of conduct.  In addition to the family, moral education is also carried out by schools and churches.  There are four main aspects to Moral Education according to the World Book Encyclopedia: Inculcation, Values clarification, Moral development and Values analysis.  The goal of moral education is to develop values -the standards by which people judge what is important, worthwhile and good.  Moral values include hard work, honesty, fairness, cooperation, tolerance and respect.

For those that have grown up on the streets having dropped out of school and never attended church their education was a distorted, unbalanced interpretation of those values held by a civil society.  Hard work is to be avoided, easy money is the game.  They dream of getting rich so that they can live the lifestyle, however they don’t see hard work or education as the means to achieve that goal.

To survive on the streets honesty and fairness have been replaced with lying, cheating and stealing.  Every transaction is an attempt to get over on someone else.  A good hustler always makes a little something on every deal.  They will say anything to anyone to get what they want.  They will take what is not theirs without hesitation in order to either have it for themselves or to turn it into quick money.

Cooperation only goes so far.  Gangs use a strict hierarchy of rank and authority that is achieved and maintained by ruthless violence and manipulation.  Disputes are often settled with a gun.  Gangs are at war with each other for territory and economic control of things like drug distribution.  There is no tolerance for anyone outside of the gang. People of other ethnicities, cultures or socio-economic classes are denigrated, derided and targeted for violence and/or exploitation.

Respect is the most highly esteemed value.  In an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ subculture respect is demanded and any perceived slight can result in violence against the individual that “disrespected” them.  Respect is based on how strong, brutal, vicious, cunning, and ruthless you are; in other words, how ‘bad’ you are.  For those in the gang subculture this is what they look up to.

How different this is from the form of respect that the greater society relies on. Respect means having regard for, to avoid violation, to have concern for an individual.  It is this basis for a civil society as opposed to the gang mentality which harkens back to the Wild West where life was cheap and people were regularly gunned down in cold blood.  They believe the myth that an armed society is a civil society, however guns don’t make peace only war.

In prison what was formerly called a knife, shive, or shank is now called a banger. And to ‘bang’ someone out is to cut them up.  There is evidence in every prison bathroom I’ve ever used of knife sharpening in the showers between the tiles or in the toilet stalls between the bricks.  To ‘buck fifty’ someone is to cut their cheek, usually in an attempt to brand them a snitch, so that everyone else that encounters that person in prison will know what they are.

In eight years in prison I have never witnessed a knife fight.  Knives are used to sneak up on somebody and severely injure or kill them.  You seek to catch your victim unaware and attack before they can defend themselves.  Often the tactic involves a group of 2-4 ganging up on a lone individual in an isolated location in a hit and run attack.  There is no intention of giving someone a “fair” fight.

Prison is full of people who committed a violent crime or came from a violent subculture and are predisposed to violence as the primary method of addressing their problems. The Parole Board may require classes such as Thinking for A Change or VPP (Violence Prevention Programming) which are cognitive behavioral therapy groups where students are asked to work through a book and participate in discussions in order to identify the underlying reasons for violence and to provide techniques to manage/control violent outbursts.

The programs taught by the MDOC do not teach morals in an attempt to re-educate offenders, rather they provide tools to manage antisocial behavior.  This is consistent with the philosophy that government does not teach morality, it only legislates it.  This is the reason why punishment is not a deterrent to crime.  Many violent crimes involve passion-unchecked emotions coupled with a complete lack of conscience, while the states solution is to apply logic and reason.  The recidivism rate speaks clearly to the failure of this approach.  Contrast this with the recidivism rate for those who actively participate in Christian faith-based programming which does teach morals. The government doesn’t teach morality, this only comes from the family, church, and schools. Unfortunately, in recent years moral teaching has been removed from schools due to the push for separation of church and state.  So, in an increasingly secular society where church attendance is decreasing and over 50% of marriages end in divorce strong morals are not being taught.

What better place than in prison to teach those who never learned proper morals in the first place? In a controlled environment you should be able to get the inmates undivided attention and yet this is not the case. Too much unproductive free time and distractions coupled with the lack of enforcement of discipline have resulted in an environment that is not conducive to learning.  Just look at the GED completion rates to see the evidence for this.

Punishment fails as a method of correcting bad behavior when the person being punished does not perceive their behavior as bad, rather as normal.  Instead it results in a loss of respect for authority and tends to further entrench the behavior.  It is a bit like when a parent tells a child, “Because I said so.”  No explanation just a command not to do it again.

Our society had become a moral quagmire because it no longer believes in absolutes. Truth is whatever you want it to be.  Morals and societal norms no longer serve as the restraints they once did to rein in aberrant behavior through peer pressure and societal expectations.  Entertainers have pushed the envelope until it has become a garbage bag. They preach a message of unrestrained hedonism.  These modern-day evangelists have millions of disciples living their lives following the philosophy of moral relativism.  So, does it make sense to use television as a baby sitter in prison? Or flood inmate’s ears with violent and sexually explicit song lyrics through MP3 players?

Instead of warehousing people in prisons with lots of free time and no direction, the MDOC needs to find a better way to manage the prison population in order to effect change.  Ex-offenders may never be model citizens after they are released, however they should no longer be the poster-children for a failed system whose faces appear on wanted posters.  Use the time given to each prisoner to instill in them a better understanding of the expectations of a civil society through the application of a moral education.

Motel 6


Tom Modell, the spokesman for the Motel 6 lodging chain used to end his commercials by saying, “We’ll leave a light on for you.”  A friendly way of letting people know that they were always prepared to receive guests.  The MDOC by contrast is more like the “Hotel California” in that “you can check out any time you want but you can never leave.” Prison and county jails for many are like a rat’s maze that is difficult to navigate, full of many dead ends, and all the exits seem to lead right back in.

Like all areas of government in this day and age, financial resources are tight, yet jails and prisons are critically over crowded.  Being asked to do more with less has resulted in a situation where jails and prisons more closely resemble warehouses than rehabilitation centers.  It has reached the point where correction has been replaced with punishment.  To most, the idea of pointless punishment is considered cruel and unusual, but for the MDOC it is business as usual.

After serving a sentence which is on average 127% of the minimum which is 120% of the federal average, many find themselves back on the streets with a large debt accumulated and limited prospects for an income sufficient to live on let alone spare resources to go toward retiring that debt.

It is the practice of county jails to charge booking fees for each suspect arrested and processed into jail.  So, whether you are ultimately found guilty or not you have started accumulating debts which will add up.  Many jails also charge inmates a daily rate.  Any money found on your person at the time of processing immediately goes toward paying the bill.  Any unpaid charges will follow you after your release.

In court you must have legal representation and if you can’t afford a lawyer on will be appointed to you.  What used to be provided as a pro bono service by a local attorney or through a public defender’s office at no charge now comes with a significant price. When you pay for your own attorney you must pay up front prior to having services rendered. If you are indigent and can’t afford an attorney they will provide you one and then bill you later.  In either case you are out thousands of dollars simply to “negotiate” a plea agreement and tens of thousands of dollars to fight your case in court.  Only those with significant financial resources can afford to mount a rigorous defense.

Upon conviction, as part of the sentence agreement you will receive a bill for fines, restitution, and court costs.  These will follow you to prison and under state law the MDOC will collect from your prison wages and any deposits to your trust account 50% of what you receive over $50 per month, and if you have multiple cases they can take up to your last $20 or $5 if there are federal charges involved.

To ensure that these costs are recouped, the MDOC has the power to seize your assets, and empty your bank accounts and investment savings -anything that is solely in your name.  They don’t have the ability to seize anything that is in a joint account or has a second owner named such as a deed to a house or car.

After paying off the fines, restitution, and court costs including court appointed attorney, the MDOC can then charge prisoners a daily rate for their incarceration, until the seized financial resources have been consumed.  Paying for your own room and board in prison does not entitle you to any extra privileges, no extra helping at chow, and no mint on your pillow.

In theory the prison chow hall diet is based on 2000 calories per day, but the reality is somewhat less than filling.  Most people will lose 10-20 pounds in prison.  Overweight people may lose 50 pounds or more as their fat reserves are tapped.  For many, physical activity such as weight lifting, rigorous workouts, and sports are part of a daily routine in prison to help the time pass quicker.  However, with increased physical activity comes a biological demand for more calories.  To supplement the necessary caloric intake the commissary does a booming business.  As this is not a basic necessity but is considered a luxury it comes with a steep price.  In county jail a package of Raman noodles may cost a dollar, in prison it costs $0.34, while in the world they go for 10-15 cents each.  With a captive market, prisoners pay exorbitant prices for low quality products.  Catalog vendors, for instance charge $20 for a pair of sweatpants and another $20 for a sweatshirt that you could buy at WalMart for $15 for the set.  Most of what is sold is seconds and irregulars, not high quality durable goods.

I found this picture of a prison TV for sale on an Etsy webpage.

Due to safety concerns TVs, radios, headphones, and other appliances approved for purchase must be made of clear plastic so that it is not possible to hide contraband inside.  However, some of the plastics used are of an inferior quality and are subject to breakage under conditions of routine usage. A small 13-inch flat screen TV that you probably can’t even buy on the streets will cost you $200.

They say “it sucks to be poor” but it is even worse to be poor in prison.  Since the majority of people in prison are from the lover socio-economic classes they and their families are the least able to afford it.  Prison didn’t use to be this way.  Society paid the cost of keeping the streets safe by paying to incarcerate the violent offenders.  Then the “war on drugs” sent a large number of non—violent drug addicts to prison.  Prison populations increased dramatically and so did budgets but not at the same rate.  Prison officials needing to do more with less have sought ways to charge for services that they previously provided for free.  When it’s time to leave prison, you have to turn in your state blues, the state will sell you a pair of khakis cut from the same uniform pattern for $50.  Something you wouldn’t even want from the Salvation Army store at half the price.

Dealing with the Quarter Master can be like dealing with a used car sales man.  If you lose a towel or a washcloth, they will charge you for them, luxury prices for third world quality.  Underwear and socks that are ill fitting and shoes that will ruin your feet.  Blankets and sheets are used until they are threadbare and then some.  To save money they reduced the number of sets of state blues from 3 pair to 2.  At some prisons laundry in only once a week, prisoners have to wear the same set of cloths for days on end.

The MDOC requires that prisoners either attend school or work.  Students are paid $0.58 per day for a 5-day school week.  Pay rates for the various jobs from porter to kitchen worker and wheel chair pusher to clerks and tutors vary significantly.  Most jobs pay less than $1 per day.  Depending on whether it is a 3, 4 or 5-day detail or has overtime available some earn as little as $10-15 a month while others may earn as much as $70-100.  For those very few who are fortunate to work for the Michigan State Industries (MSI) or Braille Transcription Service income rates may be higher still.  Pay rates for prisoners have been stagnate for years and in some cases have gone down significantly, such as when they eliminated bonuses for kitchen workers.

And the cost of living keeps rising so that what little buying power they had has eroded. Currently in the commissary prisoners are allowed to spend $100 per store every two weeks.  From this they must purchase their necessary hygiene and food items.  For an individual with no outside resources they must live on what little income they have earned from some type of hustle on the yard.  There is a great gap between the haves and the have nots.  A small bag of instant coffee costs $4, so for many it is the only luxury item they can afford and may preferentially choose that over soap and deodorant.

If you have need of medical service from Health Care there will be a $5 co-pay required for all routine services including teeth cleanings, eye exams, illnesses and non-job-related injuries.  If you don’t have the money in your account, service will be rendered but they will take the money out first when some shows up.  Additionally, over time the co-pay has been applied to chronic care visits for those with long-term and possibly life-threatening conditions that cause the person to seek medical services beyond the semi-annual exam.

For those who are unable to work or receive outside support, the Prisoner Benefit Fund (PBF) can provide $11 a month to those who meet the criteria for indigent status.  This is a loan that must be paid back when there are funds in the inmate’s trust account.  To qualify a person must have had no money in their account for the last 30 days.  The funds provided are for necessary hygiene only.

Health Care no longer provides basic medical pharmaceuticals such as aspirin for headaches, cough drops, cold pills, antacid, fiber laxative or hemorrhoid cream.  In the crowded living conditions colds and other illnesses spread rapidly throughout the population due to poor hygiene and sanitization.  Those unable to afford the remedies available for purchase in the commissary must struggle through their illness without symptom relief.

With the inability to earn money to pay for the basic necessities and large debts assessed by the courts most prisoners leave prison without any financial resources at all only to find out that the debt accumulation is not over.  On parole oversight fees and electronic tether monitoring fees can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars more.  Depending on the type of programing required by the Parole Board there may be additional program fees incurred.  All outstanding fees owed at the end of parole will be turned over to a private collection agency on behalf of the state.

The longer a person is on parole the higher the chances of violating that parole. Recidivism rates within the first 3 years of release from prison range as high as 75% for some categories of felonies.  Random drug and alcohol testing, random curfew enforcement checks, failure to comply with reporting and work requirements can all result in the revocation of the parole and send you back to prison.

For some the only hope to break this cycle is to “max out” on their sentence so that they can avoid having to deal with parole.  The result is that a person doing 2-10 years may be eligible for parole at their earliest release date (ERD) of 2 years may return to prison several more times due to parole violations and received a flop by the parole board and end up doing the full ten years on the installment plan.

For some this is not an option, since the tail on their sentences from multiple convictions have been stacked so that they have a potential 25 to life that they could theoretically have to serve in prison.  But in either case it sets up a revolving door whereby a person can expect to return to prison for some additional period of time.

To address the high recidivism rates and the critics accusations of warehousing, the MDOC does offer programming for some categories of felonies. Violent offenders may be required to take Violence Prevention Programming (VPP) or Thinking for A Change.  Sex offenders may be required to take Sex Offender Programming (SOP).  Those that have drugs or alcohol involved in their cases may have to take Phase 1 and Phase 2 Substance Abuse and additionally have to take ASAP/RSAP which are residential treatment programs.  Domestic abuse cases may have to take Bridges.  There are group classes, some of which are conducted by Psych Services.  Positive reports must be earned or else the parole board may not grant parole.  For those without education or with learning and/or psychological disabilities this can be a challenge.  Also, the mentality of so many prisoners is to resist authority, a “you can’t make me learn” mentality, or simply a person who likes who/what they are and doesn’t feel the need to change.  These programs will do little good to ensure a positive outcome and successful rehabilitation for these people. For some repeat offenders who have completed all the applicable programming and returned with a new case for the same crime no additional classes may be assigned, not even a refresher course.  The opposite is also a possibility, a person back on a parole violation may be required to complete the programming a second time even when the violation was on a technicality not a new conviction.  In either case all they can do is hope for the best with the parole board.  Just as it is true that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.  You can send a felon to prison but you can’t make him think.

Going to prison is costly both financially and in human terms.  Lost productivity which can never be recouped, lost years of family time including weddings, births, and funerals.  A debt to society that society refuses to accept payment for.  Trust that has been broken by both parties in the relationship but for which separation is not an option. For many in prison the only light at the end of the tunnel is the oncoming train.

Penitent Man

Penitent man by Gobi
“The penitent man shall pose” by Gobi 2007

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy faces a series of challenges he must solve in order to find the Holy Grail and save his friend’s life.  The clue to overcoming one of the deadly obstacles was the penitent man”. Looking around he saw a number of decapitated bodies and quickly surmised that he needed to humble himself in a hurry or share their fate.  The same happens to people who come to prison.

Another synonym for prison is penitentiary.  In 1787 the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons developed a prison system where they believed some criminals could be reformed through hard work and meditation.  Many members of the society were Quakers, who considered the moral/religious aspect of meditation a key to reformation.  They knew that the repentance that comes from the realization of the wrong one has done will lead to lasting change.

People who commit crimes by and large are selfish people who have placed their wants and desires above the needs of others.  Many are proud and unashamed of what they have done.  When you fill up a prison full of these people, sparks will fly.  When two proud people clash there can be only one winner.  Like the decapitated bodies in Indiana Jones, heads will roll, unless one of these proud men will humble them self.

Humility comes as the result of awareness regarding one’s selfish, prideful condition and the willingness to admit that this form of behavior is what brought the person to prison. However, some in prison will double down and try to make themselves into the biggest, baddest, toughest, meanest, orneriest, foulest, strongest, most ruthless SOB in the Big House.  They lift weights compulsively to strengthen their bodies, they harden their hearts until all empathy for others is gone, and they live only to satisfy their lusts for food, sex, and drugs.  They think the way to live is to die to what separates us from the animals, and in the process become animals.

When a person in prison learns to humble them self, they become more sensitive to those around them, which allows them to react quickly, like Indy, to duck out of the way when the violence starts.  A humble person has a quiet spirit which allows them to put others before themselves even when they know of the other’s selfish intentions, thereby avoiding the wrath of the proud.  We are talking about meekness here, which some confuse for weakness.  Meekness is the combination of the character traits of patience and humility.  Not exactly something that one would expect from inmates.

So how does one learn humility in prison? The Quakers coming from a Judeo-Christian world view would not have seen meditation as an Eastern Zen Buddhist self-contemplation practice, but rather as a Biblical contemplation practice.  They would not expect a person to change on their own, but by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, not by self-revelation, but by illumination of the moral standard revealed in God’s Holy Scriptures.  Humility is both the inward and outward manifestation of the change in a person’s world view when they acknowledge God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son for who they are.

James 4:6-10 says, “But He gives more grace. Therefore, He says; God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, submit to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.  Lament and mourn and weep!  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord; and He will lift you up.”

Prison is a place of stark contrasts and nothing exemplifies this concept better than the contrast between the proud and the humble.  The proud are arrogant and unteachable. They will not learn the lessons of correction and if they ever get out of prison will keep coming back, doing life on the installment plan.  Those who are humbled are teachable, they will learn the lessons of correction, and when they get out of prison will never come back.

While the original model of a penitentiary failed for a number of reasons, the concept of active participation by faith-based ministries remains a vital and necessary part of the correction system. Rehabilitation cannot be accomplished by a person in isolation, but rather only in the context of Christian community, both in prison and out.

Organizations such as the Salvation Army and Prison Fellowship are well known by the general public for providing social and moral training for those incarcerated.  But there are in the U.S. literally hundreds of faith-based ministries dedicated to bringing the gospel into prison.  On any given day of the week there are thousands of paid and volunteer workers in prisons and jails across the country, meeting with hundreds of thousands of men and women.  From full church services to Bible studies to social/moral education these groups work with prison/jail chaplains to provide resources, programming and counseling that makes rehabilitation possible.  No other religion provides this much capital and man power to assist the state in reforming the lives of so many that society has already written off.

Studies have shown that without programming recidivism rates can exceed 75%. With programming provided by the state such as educational, vocational, or psychological, recidivism rates drop to 50%. Faith-based programs reduce recidivism to less than 35%. When combined with additional programs and resources on the outside for when an individual is released from incarceration recidivism rates drop even further.  One study even suggested that the first 72 hours out of prison are the key to success.  If there is a person/organization there to provide mentoring and assistance and get the individual involved in a church, the recidivism rate falls to less than 10% in some studies.

Over the last two hundred years there have been numerous attempts at prison reform. In each case there was an acknowledgment that the current system was broken and that changes needed to be made. However, each one failed to live up to the expectations and did not result in accomplishment of the stated goals.

In each case the failures could be directly related to three causes: inadequate funding, over-crowding, and poor staff training.  Prisons are expensive to operate and since they generate little revenue are a continuing drag on government budgets.  Human societies for all of recorded history have failed due to the inability to pay the full cost of maintaining the society, whether it be defense, infrastructure, or social programs.  At some point the costs exceed the economic strength of that society.

In the U.S., political parties and their candidates campaign on the ideas of lower taxes and being tough on crime.  The two concepts are mutually exclusive, you can’t do both. Being tough on crime means more police, more prosecutors, and longer sentences which translates into significant cost increases.  Lowering taxes means that the revenue to pay for government programs becomes scarce, which leads to reductions in services since the elimination of programs can be political suicide.

In corrections this means that every year prisons must do more with less.  Costs for food, clothing, services, facilities, and staffing increase.  And yet as incarceration rates increase, budgets have been held constant or even reduced.  Even the best, most successful rehabilitation programs will be affected by this and will ultimately fail.  The result is that prisons and jails become nothing more than warehouses or cattle pens where humans are contained until they must be released to once again wreak havoc on society.  The worst possible outcome with the lowest return on investment.

Since the evidence of rehabilitation is incontrovertible and human lives matter, what are we as a society willing to pay to see our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives returned to us in a condition where they no longer pose a threat to society or themselves?  What are we willing to spend to end the cycle of poverty, violence, and broken homes that results from locking people up?  What does it say about a society that claims to be a beacon of freedom and hope, yet incarcerates more people than any other country on earth?  When is enough, enough?

There must be more to corrections than retribution.  An eye for an eye was Old Covenant philosophy. At least some portion of the church understands that we are now under the New Covenant and that forgiveness and redemption are the philosophy to live by.  There should always be repercussions for violating the laws that hold our society together but hate the sin not the sinner. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Faith-based prison ministries get this and that is why we need more of them participating in the correction system.  These organizations raise their own money from their supporters to fund their prison ministries.  This is like free money to the fiscally strapped prisons.  In the day and age where outsourcing services is seen as cost effective, what could be more cost effective than free?  Sure, there needs to be coordination and oversight and that is where the chaplain comes in.  But why turn down programs that have a positive effect on the prison environment and can significantly reduce recidivism?

Moreover, since it is that critical time immediately upon release from prison that is the major decider on whether or not a person will go straight or fall back into a life of crime, the MDOC should be actively recruiting organizations to provide after care, housing, employment/job placement services in addition to mentoring and counseling services. The vast majority of people coming out of prison have lost everything while they’ve been away and most have nowhere to come home to.  The state needs to take more responsibility to help these people that they were so zealous to lock up in the first place.

There was a program called the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI) whose original goal was to partner with non-profit organizations to help fund and coordinate these types of programs.  Yet after only two years the external portion of the MPRI program was cancelled and the funding redirected back into the MDOC, due to claims of misappropriation of funds and mismanagement by these outside groups.  Given the history of the MDOC there is more than a little irony in that allegation.  There should be considerations made to revisit this decision and encourage more faith-based organizations to come to the aide of these returning citizens.

Given human nature, not everyone can or even wants to be rehabilitated, but that is a minority of the people in prison.  A sad but true fact is that those serving life sentences, after a period of adjustment are the best-behaved inmates.  Those doing short determinate sentences, such as two years for a gun are almost completely unmanageable.  Which takes us right back to my original point about the Penitent Man: those who are willing to humble themselves can be rehabilitated.  It is up to the people in society to demand more from their representatives in the legislature and the legislature to demand more from the MDOC and the MDOC to demand more of its staff, contractors and inmates.