Sunday, May 24, 2009

Transformational Living

More than 2 in 3 prisoners returned to American society in 1994 committed another crime which landed them back in jail. There is a basic flaw in a correctional system that has such a high rate of failure to correct. We are as a society just warehousing criminals and then returning them to the many cases with new skills and contacts for perpetrating more serious crimes.

And we have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world: 751 locked up per 100,000 population. Even Russia is less with 627 per 100,000.

But there is a ray of hope for turning around the lives of prisoners. I met it last night at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River. It is the Transformational Living Community operated at several prisons around the US. Here's what the Alaska Correctional Ministries website has to say about the program:
"The Transformational Living Community (TLC) is an intensive 12-18 month faith-based residential therapeutic program within the prison setting focusing God's transforming power relative to the issues of addiction and life controlling problems in an offenders life. The recidivism rate currently is between 11-15% for those who complete the program and have returned to the community. This compares to a general national norm of about 70%.

This multi-phase program is designed to provide a new alternative to traditional types of correctional rehabilitation programs in which the spiritual dimension of an offender's life becomes the primary gateway to habilitation. Prisoners volunteer to be admitted and may volunteer to leave at any time. The residents live together in a positive, supportive community environment and are expected to embrace high levels of personal accountability, responsibility, and commitment to change. Every aspect of the program is designed to help the residents embrace and internalize truth, and to make the kind of changes that are necessary, so that when they come back into the community they will be a person much better equipped for return to society."
A group of us visited Hiland last night and saw a presentation of how the Community works and met 20-some women who volunteered for the program. Participants in the community live and study together and support one another. "I am my sister's keeper", a large banner ready. A mural depicting Jesus standing on the water lifting Peter from the waves fills a wall. The letters in a large "Transformational Warriors" banner are filled with scripture verses.

A chaplain whose meager salary is paid by donors is the shepherd for this small flock. Volunteer mentors from "outside" visit every week and spend time with inmates.

We listened as the inmates sang songs of faith in Christ. Two shared movingly about their broken lives. A former Hiland inmate who came with us talked about how Jesus had been the key to transformation in her life. As I looked into each face, I saw a common element in their eyes: hope!

The community is made possible by a willing correctional center administration and the contributions of churches. The TLC is entirely faith-based, and could not exist without theses contributions.

The astonishing success of the TLC is due to the transforming power of Christ. Prison experts we talked with said nothing else comes remotely close to this.

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