Steamboat Springs My entire four years of under-graduate college work was done while living in a halfway house for criminals (no, sorry to disappoint my liberal detractors, but I wasn't an inmate). I had been given a chance to go to college while working my way through by cleaning up the church and school along with eventually getting a job cleaning up the "kill" at a slaughter house. Given that background, it's amazing I ended up in the fine jewelry business rather than as a lifetime janitor. But that's not the subject of this column.
Nearly all of these men and boys that we welcomed into the facility to give them a second chance at life were returned to their prisons or reformatories within months or even weeks. Yes, we gave them what the parole departments mandated: a place to live and a job. In short order, it became obvious to me this simply wasn't enough.
Most of these guys were the truly disadvantaged, not merely because they may have had their roots in poverty, though many did. Their poverty was much more insidious and debilitating: a lack of love, guidance and good role models. Most had operated on the bottom levels of society for so long that they simply couldn't envision anything else. Even though many were still minors, often by the time they got to us, the scars of crime, immorality and dishonesty seemed almost indelible. It was incredibly sad to watch.
But there were and are exceptions. These were the men who experienced a foundational spiritual transformation. Since they had received so little love in their lives, the knowledge that there is a loving and caring God who accepted them for what they are and want to become was a light in the darkness, much more so than we who had a reasonable upbringing. The term Reborn took on new meaning to me upon viewing these sincere redemptions. Surely, there is a lot more to the story of ex-cons such as changing habits, finding decent new friends and learning how to get and stay employed, but this was definitely the first step by at least staying free of the slammer.
This knowledge has led me to support and be overwhelmingly inspired by Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship organization, founded about 35 years ago as he emerged from prison for his Watergate cover-up crimes. The programs they run have provable numbers that speak for themselves and show a recidivism rate of about 25 percent to 30 percent of the norm. This is not simply a mathematical statistic without societal consequences. Many of these men have turned into decent citizens where formerly they were robbing, raping and causing mayhem in our neighborhoods. With their personal changes emanating from the inside out, they have a chance at life : a possibility of some self respect and maybe even the love of a family of their own that they never had.
One of the places Prison Fellowship has been allowed to implement its program, which is 100 percent voluntary, is in the Iowa state prison system. But in one of the most despicable and outrageous acts of willingly damning their fellow men, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has been fighting to have this program shut down. And for the worsening of our society and these men who so desperately need a second chance, they have finally succeeded. The courts sided with them and it closes mid-March.
I just wonder how they sleep at night.
Gary Hofmeister is the owner and operator of Hofmeister Personal Jewelers in downtown Steamboat, a company he founded in 1973. He is a Director of the Conservative Leadership Council of Northwest Colorado and a former Republican nominee for Congress in the 10th District of Indiana. He made 18 trips