Faith-based prison: belief, not results

What happens when you try and run a “faith based” prison in the absence of any real involvement by God? According to a former inmate, you get glowing reports from inmates–as long as they’re in the system’s control:

As an exemplary participant in the prison’s faith-based dormitory program, I was selected to be interviewed by the Capitol press corps. As a former newspaper reporter, I longed to expose the corruption of the faith-based program by many inmates, as well as the abuses of some corrections officers…

But my desire to get out of prison alive and on time overruled my inner crusading journalist. So rather than an exposé, I gave the reporters a testimony.

Tom Seibert, a former journalist convicted on drug charges, describes his experiences in the faith-based prison program at Wakulla Correctional Institution near Tallahasee, Florida. Though all participants (inmates) signed a statement promising to uphold a Christian code of conduct, few kept their promise. Instead, tables set up for studying the Bible were used for playing cards. Gangsta rap, not Christian music, blared from the PA system, and inmates weren’t even allowed to watch Christian programs (?!). Misconduct was overlooked by the guards, and chaplains were hard to keep.

It was not unusual to find a razor blade concealed in a Bible.

Most of the officers turned a blind eye, a deaf ear and a dead conscience to this decidedly unfaithful behavior. Inmates housed in other dormitories called ours the “fake-based” dorm, and this was not a misnomer.

New chaplains were periodically hired to oversee the program, and each tried unsuccessfully to impose some semblance of discipline among the “participants.” But the so-called convict code was so deeply entrenched in many of these men that anyone even seen speaking with a chaplain was labeled a “snitch.”

Nor did the guards limit themselves to simply ignoring misconduct by inmates against each other:

Prison inmates at Wakulla and throughout Florida are treated worse than the terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Officers routinely shout and swear at them. They sleep on skinny mattresses on hard steel bunks with no safety steps or railings. They work outdoors for long hours with little or no protection from the cold, rain, sun and ubiquitous mosquitoes. And they are often forced to quickly consume their meals as if they were in a food-eating contest. This results in mass indigestion and massive food throwaways at taxpayers’ expense.

Yet despite the appalling conditions, Seibert felt compelled, for his own safety and timely release, to give the program only positive ratings while he was still imprisoned there.

I testified how God had sent a parade of chaplains, faith-based volunteers and fellow Christian inmates into my life to demonstrate his infinite love and redeeming grace. I talked about the many edifying religious courses I had taken in the program, such as “Alpha,” “Experiencing God” and “40 Days of Purpose.” I recounted praying and studying the Bible with other inmates who had undergone the same existential transformation as I had.

These men were former addicts, alcoholics, burglars, robbers, drug dealers and child molesters who had found mercy and meaning in their lives by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as their resurrected Savior.

I concluded by telling the press how the chaplains and church volunteers had generously written letters on my behalf to help me re-establish my writing career as a Christian journalist.

Faith-based programs are all about producing this kind of “testimony,” even if it has to be effectively coerced. Imagine how different this story would be if there actually was a loving God who cared enough to get involved in this kind of ministry, and bless it. Sadly, while faith-based programs are good at producing a superficial appearance of success, those who endure such treatment know how hollow such “results” really are.

One Response to “Faith-based prison: belief, not results”

  1. Actual positive results from faith-based prison program « Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] results from faith-based prison program October 18th, 2007 — The Professor Since I reported that faith-based prison ministries tended to encourage more hypocrisy than genuine improvements, […]

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