Marcia and I were watching the news, as a reporter explained that the man who committed this particular crime had recently been released from prison. That’s the kind of stuff that makes the news, and that’s the kind of stuff that sets back possibilities of parole for many others. We have no hard data to support this, but all of us involved in this kind of work are convinced that this negative publicity just stiffens the position of the Michigan Parole Board. It gets tougher for worthy inmates to catch a parole.
I’ll be the first to admit that, even in our small organization we’ve been stung. People who we thought were good immediately resumed doing bad things the moment they got out. But the story that seems to get missed by the media (and I tread lightly here, because I was a part of the media for nearly 30 years and I felt that my reporting was very balanced) is the wonderful story of second-chance successes by ex-offenders.
This whole topic is fresh in my mind because this week Matt and I had a very productive luncheon meeting with a couple leaders of 70 X 7 LIFE RECOVERY OF MUSKEGON. We were talking about the reluctance of Christians in general and some churches in particular to accept ex-offenders, let alone welcome them. “When that happens,” said Executive Director Joe Whalen, “we just turn Nate on them!”
Nate Johnson is now the Mentoring Director for this fine agency, explaining the importance of second chances to parolees. And when he speaks to a church group, people listen. You see, as a teenager, he was among the most ‘successful’ crack cocaine dealers in Muskegon. He was arrested at 19, received a lengthy prison term. The big story here is that he made life-altering good choices while serving that sentence. He has successfully re-entered the Muskegon community and now helps to touch lives of those who traveled down similar roads.
I don’t remember reading any headlines about Nate’s amazing story.
And there are so many others; so many with whom we’ve worked who are now productive citizens, not only grateful for their freedom, but anxious to convert that earlier negative into a future positive! We have a file full of beautiful stories of men and women who screwed up, but made a conscious decision to change. Today they are more than paying their debts to society. I’m not reading or hearing much about it in the media.
All of us can tell stories about second chances. My name is at the top of list. A second chance with endangered health; a second chance after a lot of mess-ups (for which, thank God, I did not get arrested!).
Yours and mine may not be newsworthy. But, the comeback tales of many Michigan prisoners are exceptional and worthy of media attention.
These "second-chance" people are worthy of a welcome in your neighborhood, too.
And your church.