Chuck Colson’s Son: To Change the World, Start With Prisons

Inmates walk past correctional officers at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Inmates walk past correctional officers at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

One Easter weekend, I accompanied my father, Charles Colson, to a prison in South Carolina. We held a worship service on Death Row, and about 20 men came out of their cells to sing songs and listen to my dad give a message about the resurrection of Jesus.

My father, whose books on Christian life and thought have sold more than 5 million copies, could have spent Easter weekend in more influential pulpits. He could have commanded an audience of thousands of Christians who were well-resourced and well-connected, rather than men in prison jumpsuits. But instead, every Easter for decades following his release from prison in 1975 for a Watergate-related crime until his death in 2012, he chose to go back behind bars to celebrate with the incarcerated.

My father understood that if we want to change the world, we must start behind bars.

The criminal justice system may not seem like the place to initiate cultural renewal, but no place could be better.

When our nation’s 2.2 million prisoners are held in conditions that do little to help address the roots of criminal behavior, they remain likely to continue in a criminal lifestyle after they are released.

Of the more than 600,000 prisoners who are released each year, two-thirds will be re-arrested within three years. When their parents come home from prison stuck in the same criminal behaviors, the one in 28 American children with an incarcerated parent continue to suffer. New victims are created. Communities remain stuck in cycles of crime, incarceration and poverty.

There is a better way.

Prison officials, departments of corrections, faith groups and other organizations can work together to create a more restorative prison culture—one that offers the perpetrators of crime an opportunity to face proportional accountability for their actions, make amends and prepare to be good citizens and good neighbors upon their release.

For example, Prison Fellowship’s Warden Exchange convenes corrections professionals who exchange innovative ideas and best practices for the moral rehabilitation of prisoners. These practices create correctional environments that respect human dignity, improve safety and reduce the likelihood that released prisoners will commit new offenses.

Prisons are full of untapped potential. Under the right conditions, many people—like my father—can pay their debt to society, prepare for a new future and make the most of their second chance.

A variety of prison programs that address the roots of criminal behavior through education, mentoring, substance-abuse treatment and more have been shown to reduce recidivism.

Click here to read more.

Christian Colson serves on the board of directors of Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, former prisoners and their families.

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