Some days it seems that we can be highly critical of certain personnel and certain policies of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Some days we remove all doubt! But fair is fair, so when we see or find certain personnel and certain programs worthy of praise, we must not remain silent.
Today, HFP pays tribute to Shawn Brewer, Warden of the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson. I’m quick to point out that we hardly know the man. I met him just once, a little over a week ago. But here’s why we’re giving him special recognition: Good things are happening at that prison!
CHANCE FOR LIFE is an exciting program that was founded in 1999. Quoting CFL’s own statement: The purpose of the Chance for Life Organization is to enhance the ability of ex-offenders to be successful after leaving prison by providing an integrated program that transforms and educates, while focusing on family reunification and community safety. CFL has chapters now in 8 different prisons, including Cotton.
In August of this year, CFL enrolled some 250 inmates in a month-long Peace Initiative. Here’s what these guys pledged: I,________________ pledge to use my knowledge, influence, skills and abilities to promote PEACEMAKING and PEACEKEEPING throughout this facility as well as within my community. I pledge to not demean anyone with my words or hands. I lastly pledge to resolve all conflicts in a Peaceful Manner to the best of my ability.
It was my honor and privilege to deliver the keynote address for the day-long conference that concluded this project. As I signed in, Warden Brewer was there to shake my hand. His Deputy Warden, Douglas Smith, did the same, the likes of which we have not seen since the days of former Warden Mary Berghuis in Muskegon! I then witnessed more than 150 men who some might describe has hardened criminals, stand up and recite the above pledge for all the world to see and hear!
The good things don’t stop there. A new chapter of the NATIONAL LIFERS OF AMERICA has started up at Cotton. They’ve already been in touch with HFP, hoping to bring our former board chair and this writer to the prison for a special seminar. I make a presentation on services offered by HFP, especially in helping inmates prepare to meet with the Parole Board and in filing commutation applications. Dr. Dan Rooks, a clinical psychologist, gives a frank discussion on the topic of anger management. It’s an exceptionally popular program, and it will be coming to Cotton.
Wardens of each prison have a lot of say-so when it comes to the PRISONER BENEFIT FUND, which consists of money collected primarily in the vending machines and supply store of each facility. A Warden’s Forum, consisting of staff members and inmates, meets to discuss disbursement of funds, for the benefit of prisoners, like microwave ovens or exercise equipment. But, occasionally the inmates express a desire to make donations to a few Michigan charitable organizations that specifically assist them, including ours. One warden, in particular, refuses to let a dollar go to these agencies…especially ours! At Cotton, however, the warden obviously gave his blessing, because HFP was one agency to receive a generous gift this month.
Jesus said, in Matthew 7, “By their fruits you will know them.”
We think we know Warden Brewer! May God keep him on this path of recognizing the worth and potential of prisoner lives, and may he be a shining example to others.