Doing Time

With JC in the TDCJ

Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United, says, "We see a need to litigate this whole faith-based concept. We're asking that the program be terminated in Iowa." He says that program is partially funded through a prison telephone rebate program, causing inmates to pay for something many aren't eligible for. Boston says, "The program in Texas is just as troubling. Even if it worked, it still wouldn't be right." He says the perks that come with InnerChange amount to proselytizing "not only Christianity but a specific brand."

"They're offering them so much, it's almost like a bribe," says Bo Lozoff, the founder and director of The Human Kindness Foundation, an interfaith group that ministers to prisoners nationwide. Lozoff was volunteering in prisons when Colson was still working for Nixon and has spoken at more than 700 prisons. His book We're All Doing Time borrows ideas from all the major religions, especially Buddhism. Lozoff advocates turning jail time into a monastic experience and runs a sort of commune in North Carolina for ex-convicts.

Lozoff says he went to North Carolina prison officials a few years ago to try to get a multifaith prison started but was turned down without explanation. He says, "There's a lot of Buddhist groups that would love to get a program set up like this." When asked if he thought he could get a multifaith InnerChange-type prison started here, Lozoff laughs. "In Texas? Of course not." He adds, "When Christians go meet with prison officials, they don't get treated as weirdos."

InnerChange has been called the most intensive 
prison rehabilitation course in the nation.
Daniel Kramer
InnerChange has been called the most intensive prison rehabilitation course in the nation.
Damon Dorroh has "TEXAS" tattooed on the back of 
his head.
Daniel Kramer
Damon Dorroh has "TEXAS" tattooed on the back of his head.

Carol Vance definitely wasn't treated like a weirdo when he asked Governor Bush to turn over a prison to Colson's group in 1996. Vance, a former Harris County district attorney, was then chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. He'd toured a Christian prison in Brazil with Colson and was impressed with the 10 percent recidivism rate there. "The inmates ran the prison. They policed themselves," says Vance. "It was phenomenal."

Bush had campaigned in 1994 on a promise to put faith-based initiatives to work in state government. Vance says, "Governor Bush was very enthusiastic, and once he got behind it, that made it go real fast."

Texas became home to the nation's first faith-based prison in at least a century. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that Vance was a tennis partner of a former president -- Vance and Bush's father both belong to the Houston Country Club -- or that Colson's group has long, strong ties to the Republican Party. A common concern is that because evangelical Christianity is the religion du jour in Washington, other faiths won't get a fair shake should federal dollars become available.

The man President Bush has charged with putting faith-based programs into the federal prison system, Attorney General John Ashcroft, is definitely an Old Testament kind of guy. He had himself anointed with oil after his Senate confirmation, a move viewed by even some mainstream Protestants as, well, a little kooky.

Chuck Colson, through the Christian public relations firm his ministry employs, declined to be interviewed for this article, but he did publish a response to Kleiman's criticisms. Colson didn't really address Kleiman's argument of selection bias but dismissed him as someone "whose objective is to score points against the president." Colson had previously been quoted as saying the Penn study was "a tremendous vindication, I think, for the president."

The Houston Press asked Scott Phillips, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, for his assessment of the Penn study. He said, "Considering all participants, IFI does not reduce recidivism. Considering the graduates, IFI leads to a dramatic reduction in recidivism. Is it appropriate to just consider graduates? No."

However, Phillips added, "Even the most rigorous evaluation would probably conclude that IFI has real benefits for the small number of inmates who are both interested in the program and complete the program. But at this point it's impossible to be sure."

But the White House seems sure enough to push Congress hard for federal funding, though no one outside the Christian community is making much of an argument with Kleiman's position -- not even the study's author, Byron Johnson. Johnson has declined all media requests since Kleiman's story appeared.

Johnson is not the only one suddenly silent. Representatives from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives initially agreed to speak about the InnerChange program. They later backed out when it became apparent the Press would be addressing criticisms of the study they'd trumpeted.

But none of that matters much to the Christians who live, work and volunteer at the Vance Unit. And statistics would probably tell you that Robert Sutten should be locked up or dead, or that Theo Bailey should be slinging dope on the nearest street corner.

Kleiman tends to agree. "In some ways it's unfair," he says. "They're not trying to achieve statistical significance, they're interested in individual salvation."

And that seems to be happening. The men who have stuck with InnerChange exhibit an air of calmness and stability not often found in those who've done time in Texas. And there even seems to be a marked difference between the prisoners who have just arrived at InnerChange and those who are about to leave.

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