COLUMN: Chaining the body, freeing the heart

Leslie Arntz

Society has dictated rules pertaining to what is not acceptable behavior. Punishment is doled out.

Big crimes mean long prison terms. For what is considered a minor offense, imprisonment generally results from repeat offenses. Prison is a good thing. People manifesting evil natures should be retained.

The seclusion of certain criminals from the outside world gives the chance for specialized rehabilitation and removes them from negative outside influences they may not be able to avoid on their own.

In order for real change, for genuine rehabilitation to occur, a person must change his heart. The soul must be nurtured. A full life cannot be lived without that.

All criminal behavior is linked to selfishness. It is an inherent trait in human nature and what places men and women in prison. Teaching inmates to read and write does not solve any of the societal problems a prisoner may carry with him. It simply makes for a smarter criminal.

Society has a mentality of locking someone up and throwing away the key. Criminals are dehumanized. Some may have committed atrocious acts, but that does not mean they should be abandoned by society. Convicts have hopes, dreams, love and every other quality assumed to be possessed by free citizens.

Throwing them into the cesspool of existence that so many prisons have become is detrimental. One mistake does not have to mark a person for life. There is such a thing as a second chance, a second hope.

Programs such as InnerChange Freedom Initiative reach out to scared, lost inmates. They focus on the hearts and souls of the people in prison. Even in this society obsessed with the separation of church and state, there is no denying that faith-based initiatives have changed more hearts than any correctional facility could otherwise.

No amount of secular rehabilitation could ever have transformed what was known as the bloodiest prison in America. The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola was a human warehouse for thousands of Louisiana’s worst criminals. It was a bloody, violent place ruled by fear, until reform was mandated.

Current warden Burl Cain saw the despair and pain in the lives of the prisoners there and decided to do something about it, rather than turn a blind eye as is the case in other prisons. His policies give meaningful opportunities to inmates to discover value and purpose in their lives.

The Character Counts program utilized by LSP teaches participants how to develop mental and moral character. In turn, these skills are manifested through the prison’s own publication, The Angolite magazine; radio station, KLSP; and the Angola Prison Rodeo and adjacent craft show. Vocational training is available for 14 skilled trades including carpentry and welding. A college education is made available and other inmates are able to acquire their GED.

The responsibility Cain feels toward these men does not have to be isolated to Christian programs. If it’s not just a Christian principle that all humans have value and worth, others should develop similar programs.

Prisons provide a captive audience and a stock pond of willing hearts with the desire to change. Don’t do away with imprisonment, instead utilize opportunity. All it takes is time, effort, discipline, dedication and compassion.

Leslie Arntz is a sophomore magazine journalism major and a point/counterpoint columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].