Thoughts from Chaplain Lyons regarding a prison ministry conference he attended in November 2000
Chaplain Emmett Solomon, Director of “Restorative Justice Ministries Network” has had 30 years experience working under the Texas Department of Corrections. Chaplain Solomon shared many poignant facts about why our correctional system does not work, and also some positive corrections that Restorative Justice and others are doing that are proving to make a difference in the correctional setting.
Chaplain Solomon confirmed what most of you know, that is, that most inmates only get worse while they are in prison. His basic message was that most people who are habitual criminals (institutionalized the majority of their lives) have never had a family support system to teach them what they need to know to become responsible adults. And, that most criminals have the maturity of an adolescent.
He stated that it takes a parent to impart four virtues into their children to raise them correctly: Love, guidance, nurturing, and discipline. Most criminals have only received a vain attempt of guidance from their parents and an imbalance of discipline. With-out love and nurturing, they can never grow and mature into responsible men and women.
Chaplain Solomon asked us the question, “And what do these people receive in prison?” The obvious answer was, “Only guidance and discipline”.
He mentioned that there is no real way out of the cycle that entraps these individuals in their immaturity. They do not learn how to make responsible decisions while incarcerated. They are told what to do and when to do it. If
they do not do what they are told, they are disciplined severely. Without experiencing some love and nurturing, the cycle of destruction continues.
However, he did mention that the correctional system is beginning to acknowledge that love and nurturing can change the attitude and character of a criminal. He documented that the Texas Department of Corrections has
observed that when they treat men and women in prison who are considered incorrigible with some dignity, love and nurturing, many of these inmates become manageable, and can function in the main line with the other inmates.
Also, Chaplain Solomon stated that the Texas Department of Corrections is seeing that giving offenders the opportunity to accept Christ, being reconciled with the victim by asking for forgiveness, and making restitution, can generate true rehabilitation.
Even with the above being true, Chaplain Solomon emphasized that a correctional institution will never really be designed to offer anything more than discipline. He added that society does not want to minister to those incarcerated, but rather wants to see them punished severely for their crimes. Not that punishment is wrong, but the right type of punishment needs to be administered and restitution/reconciliation is an intricate part of proper correction.
Society’s fear of approaching the incarcerated is so acute that society feels safer with the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. However, it’s not that simple.
Almost everyone who is incarcerated will get out of prison or jail. If inmates’ lives are not changed while incarcerated, they will victimize society again.
This is why the church is so important. The correctional system’s focus will never really be on love and nurturing, but the church’s focus should be. We as Christians have the answer, and we should make ourselves visible to the correctional system, to reinforce Christ’s ministry of repentance, restitution, restoration and reconciliation.