Last week about 150 formerly imprisoned persons walked across the stage of the Potter’s House Church in Dallas donning a green cap and gown. They joined the ranks of nearly a thousand ex-inmates who have graduated from the 12-month Texas Offenders Re-entry Initiative program (TORI) since 2005. Begun as a reentry mentoring ministry by famed televangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes, the now public/private partnership program seeks to curb recidivism by offering a wide range of services such as psychological counseling, treatment for addiction, job training and housing assistance.
Though many tend to associate Bishop Jakes with the excessive indulgences of televangelism or his neoconservative theology, this is one of the areas where he has a particular progressive posture. He has gone on record stating that convicted felons should have their voting rights restored. And the point of the program is to demonstrate the moral virtue and financial value of rehabilitation over repeated reincarcerations.
Jakes is quoted in the Associated Press saying that, “I think we have written off ex-offenders to a degree that we [Texas] have one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation. We’ve had to spend all our money building walls around our homes (to feel safe). Pretty soon you have to ask yourself, who is really being incarcerated?”
Though the national unemployment rate is at 10% (double this for African American males), we know the pain is much more acute for those on the bottom rungs of America’s economic ladder. As NY Times columnist Bob Herbert recently reported, for persons in the lower income households—those most vulnerable to America’s prison industrial complex—suffering is consistent with the heights of the Great Depression and in some cases worse.
This is why multi-pronged approaches, including psychological, moral and spiritual nurture, are necessary to assist a critical segment of our society who bare the scars of imprisonment. And this is also why, regardless of one’s theological or political orientation, one must tip their hat to these sorts of efforts taking place at the Potter’s House and among other faith-based communities across the country.