Proselytizing in Prison
Tanya Erzen printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 03:06:26 PM EST
This week the British prison service barred the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), a biblically based prison program sponsored by Charles W. Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) from Dartmoor prison.  Their stated reason was that the program did not enhance diversity or provide a multi-faith agenda in the prison.  In June, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt ordered IFI to shut down and reimburse the state of Iowa the $1.5 million it had received to fund its program in Newton Correctional Facility near Des Moines, Iowa.   The lawsuit, brought by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State argued that the program promotes evangelical Christianity at state expense.  

For all practical purposes, the state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation, i.e., InnerChange employees, authority to control the spiritual, emotional, and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates.  There are no adequate safeguards present, nor could there be, to ensure that state funds are not being directly spent to indoctrinate Iowa inmates.
Since 2001, faith-based organizations have received 1.1 billion in federal and state funding with the mandate to focus their efforts on at-risk youth, ex-offenders and prisoners, homeless men and women, substance abusers, and welfare-to-work families. The White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives chose the Prison Fellowship Ministries as one of four national partners for a $22.5 million workplace re-entry program for ex-offenders.  

The PFM and Prison Fellowship International (PFI) were founded by Charles Colson, who served seven months in prison for his Watergate crimes in the 1970s and then remade himself as an advocate for the redemptive power of evangelical Christianity on criminals.  

InnerChange is a 24-hour immersion program in collaboration with the Department of Corrections that begins 18 to 24 months before an inmate is released.  PFM administers entire wings of men's medium security prisons in Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas.  Inmates two years away from parole who attest to being born-again Christians and agree to the religious beliefs of IFI are eligible to join InnerChange.  They participate in a highly structured program of reading biblical scripture, practicing gospel music, studying for their high school equivalency exam, and learning life skills.  After their release, the program provides a Christian mentor for six to twelve months during which a participant must hold a job and be an active church member.  

By joining an InnerChange program, inmates can transfer from more dangerous parts of the prison system.  They have access to privileges such as keys to their cells, private bathrooms, big-screen televisions, and family visits.  Completing the InnerChange program usually means that inmates have an easier time with the Parole Board, and graduates are guaranteed a space in work-release as well as help finding a job and housing.  InnerChange offers substance-abuse treatment and free computer training. As one man who is not in InnerChange, noted,

The Christians do lots of stuff the state used to do, like vocational programs, but now they're only for believers.

Colson and Mark Early, the head of InnerChange, have launched a campaign to discredit the rulings and solicit private funding to keep the programs in place. They are also planning to appeal the court decision.  Colson and Early claim that the ruling hurts prisoners because it prevents them from experiencing what they call a "heart change" and truly becoming rehabilitated.  Early writes,

Without programs like IFI, British offenders, like their American counterparts, will be released from prison to once again prey upon the public; all of this in the name of... an Orwellian notion of "diversity."

Colson and Early also claim that the IFI program is a matter of religious freedom, reiterating almost identical language used by President Bush to justify the faith-based initiative program.  

Prison Fellowship wants to see a level playing field for people of faith. People of faith should not be excluded from providing services in the public square to those who have volunteered to receive them. We want prisoners to be able to take part in a program--yes, even a Christ-centered one--that will help them change their lives for the better if they desire to do so.

Neither Colson nor Early see a problem with federal money supporting a program that advocates the superiority of Christianity over all other religions. And, despite pleas for religious freedom, neither envisions an equal playing field for all faiths in prison.   In a recent column Chuck Colson warned about the dangers of radical Islam in America's prisons, asserting that prisons are "breeding grounds for future terrorists."  Early writes,

Their zeal to implement the "multi-faith agenda" has apparently blinded them to the true religious threat in British prisons: radical Islam.

Colson argues that, "no religious sect should be allowed to preach a doctrine that promotes violence, especially in prison."  His solution: "the surest antidote to the poison of hatred and revenge spread by some radical Islamists, is Christ's message of love, forgiveness, and peace."  

Where does Colson draw the line between providing social services and proselytizing to a captive population?  The message of the InnerChange programs is that rehabilitation occurs through redemption from Jesus, challenging the assumption that rehabilitation is and should be secular.  The premise of the faith-based policies is a theology of social action that claims religion itself is the solution for socioeconomic problems.  As the chief counsel for Americans United writes, "The government has no business treating some inmates better than others on the basis of religious belief."   However, Colson would disagree:

What's at stake is not just a prison program, but how we deal with social problems in our country. Do we do it through grassroots organizations or big government? We know what works.
A narrative of transformed personhood is central to the faith-based policies and to the way some organizations of the Christian Right view drug addiction, homosexuality and imprisonment.  Their answer to imprisonment and poverty is about conversion to evangelical Christianity.  Belief in Jesus will transform a person: from drug addict to clean and sober Christian, homosexual to ex-gay Christian, prisoner to law-abiding Christian.  The story of faith-based services as the main way to confront imprisonment has also become a way to privatize social policy and place the onus for solving social issues onto individuals.  

I've visited and taught in several prisons, and there is an overwhelmingly need for programs for men and women to transition out of prison.  Prison Fellowship Ministries has received an influx of government money while most prisons have eliminated education and job-training programs.  Instead of federal and state funding for religious programs, the federal government should direct that money to GED and college programs as they did before Congress eliminated the Pell Grant program in 1994.  There are underfunded programs already doing excellent work like the Prison University Project at San Quentin and the Learning Center for Women in Prison.

It is crucial to question the logic that becoming a born-again Christian is more transformative than an education and skills that enable incarcerated men and women to obtain lasting and meaningful employment.  Otherwise, the solution that the federal government and Chuck Colson see to imprisonment is simply conservative Christianity with a political agenda aligned with the Christian Right.  

I recently spent a day visiting Lawtey Correctional facility in Lawtey, Florida.  It was the first faith and character state prison in the United States, and it is designed to be an entirely religious facility, providing programs for prisoners of all faiths.  All of its materials and programs are on a volunteer basis.  The prison officials are careful to state publicly that they don't believe state funds should go to specific religious programs.  However, the existence of Lawtey and the two other faith and character programs in Florida raise interesting questions about the meaning of rehabilitation and the role of religion in the prison.  The two largest groups volunteering at Lawtey are non-denominational conservative Christian churches with ties to prominent Christian conservatives like Sam Brownback.

by Tanya Erzen on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 03:21:59 PM EST
Is a high water mark.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 09:52:22 PM EST

It irks me that our prison system is not really about rehabilitation, it's about punishment. Otherwise, fully rehabilitated people like Stanley 'Tookie' Williams would be allowed to continue contributing positively to society instead of being executed.  I think the bulk of rehabilitation is not through our laws or system, but through these other organizations.
I think it's perfectly ok for any group to volunteer and help in prisons, especially for the purposes of rehabilitation. The only problem I have is having government money go to these organizations. It's a conflict of interest. If you're self employed by definition you don't have to answer to a boss, but if you're an employee you are getting money from the boss, and you better be doing what the boss wants you to do. How can these organizations retain any control over what they do or what they stand for if they are getting paid by another entity?
And give me a break- it's not about religious freedom, because if Colson's group were Buddist or Mormon there would've been a hue and cry from the religious right over them even having contact with inmates. I don't know the Koran to quote its scripture, but I would imagine that the Moslem faith is not based on terrorism, as Colson implied. I don't think there is any faith that is based on terrorism, unless it's faith in corporatism.

by Tin Soul on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 05:36:35 PM EST
I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. Thanks...
Healthy Talk

by shaka22 on Sun Apr 14, 2019 at 05:49:13 PM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (330 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (178 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (98 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (93 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (105 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (127 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (115 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (79 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (228 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (55 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (153 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (173 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (53 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (54 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (210 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (240 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (87 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (171 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (143 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (141 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (146 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (144 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (123 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (185 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (142 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (83 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (189 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (77 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (107 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (105 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.