Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Spiritual Vision for Prison Reform

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Spiritual Vision for Prison Reform

Article excerpt

A Christian Science perspective.

I remember thinking, after visiting with a man convicted of murder, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." That may sound unusual, but I've learned, in talking with men and women in prison over the years, that beneath the sometimes rough exterior are people who have made mistakes and would dearly like to reconnect with their better selves.

In the United States we have done a poor job of rehabilitating those we send to prison - with the unfortunate result that the vast majority become repeat offenders. A commentary by Michael Shank, published in the Monitor, stated that to care for 2.3 million inmates, the US spends $80 billion annually on its correctional system - or $35,000 per inmate. Yet some of the best work done to rehabilitate individuals in prison is by volunteers from the religious community. To me, this serves as a stark lesson: It's not about how much money is spent; rather it's about the vision that supports rehabilitation.

For too long the main motive for putting individuals in jail has been to protect society from bad people, with little being done to help the prisoners improve their mental models. Prison overcrowding in some states has led to the court-ordered release of thousands back into society - many "educated" in crime by other prisoners and likely to return to the life that got them into trouble.

There are, however, positive examples that show the value of having spiritual vision in working with prisoners. A documentary produced by Odyssey Networks, titled "Serving Life," profiled men serving life sentences without parole who are caring for fellow patients diagnosed as terminally ill with AIDS. One of the inmates involved with the program said, "Hospice is referred to as a process of helping one die with dignity, but more than that, I feel it's helping one live our life with love." 

This is one of the ways people are providing new models for prisoners, but a broader change in public thought is needed to more effectively reduce crime. In thinking about this, I have found helpful Mary Baker Eddy's conviction that in our transactions with others, "God requires wisdom, economy, and brotherly love. …

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