Dan Rooks and I had such a neat experience yesterday!
Dan is a clinical psychologist and former chairman of our Board of Directors. He and I do a “dog and pony” show in Michigan prisons from time to time. I speak first, telling about the history of HFP and the services that we offer. He then follows with a serious chat about non-violent communication…an important topic for all of us, but especially for prisoners. Yesterday we presented our program at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility, one of three state prisons in the city of Ionia.
On the way in
As we walked through the yard on our way to the prison auditorium, the Activities Director pointed out the unique facilities on this campus, including one special unit for physically handicapped and one special unit for mentally challenged inmates. He explained that this particular facility offers more programs than any other single prison in the state, including college courses and even vocational training.
As men filtered into the auditorium it felt like “old home week.” I met a couple of inmates whom I have known for nearly 20 years. There were many friends that we recognized, and many other names that we recognized from our correspondence. It was an amazing experience. Nearly 100 guys there, all copiously taking notes as I explained what we can do and how we can help. One could hear a pin drop when Dan talked to seasoned prisoners on how to respond to insults and threats in a non-violent manner. This delicious experience lasted for nearly two hours, with a lot of Q and A and open discussion.
On the way back
A different Corrections Officer led us back to the main building. This time, as we walked through the yard, he pointed at a different unit, mentioning “the cream of the crop.” Then he apologized, saying he was just joking. That was the building where the toughest and most problematic young prisoners are housed. “I confiscate drugs and weapons in that unit every day,” he explained. My question: “How does that stuff get in there?” And he couldn’t give a good answer, because they keep coming up with new and innovative methods to sneak the stuff in, including both “visitors and dirty staff.” “It’s like trying to plug too many holes with just ten fingers.” He concluded by flatly stating, “I’ve given up any thoughts about rehabilitation for that bunch. If one of the guys says ‘I’m really trying,” I just say, Yeah, whatever.’”
Richard A. Handlon CF: A study in contrasts!
The whole experience gave me at least two very important reminders.
Number one, it’s imperative that we pray not only for the good prisoners who have chosen a new and better way of life, but also for the tough and mean guys who think they know of a better way. And on the other side of the coin, it’s important that we also pray for prison staff, as well as prison administration. This business of incarceration and rehabilitation is complex and complicated.
And Number two, ALL of these men have been created in the image of God, and just because some are more challenging, it is the duty and the responsibility of HFP to be kind to them all, and respond to every request for assistance. With divine intervention for sure, we’ve been known to touch some of those lives, as well.
God loves them all! So must we.