Huntsville, Texas is home to the state's main prison facility. So it's fitting that this article appeared in the Huntsville Item yesterday about Restorative Justice Ministries, Texas' largest prison ministries network.
"The old 'tough, Texas Justice,' it doesn't work," said Bill Kleiber, administrative assistant for Restorative Justice Ministries. "We favor smart justice. What we do here is we help victims of crime, ex-offenders, offenders and corrections officers, pretty much anyone who is touched by incarceration."That's a bold message to take into a small town filled with prison guards, and an especially important messenger. Not a lot of folks know about the fine, mostly low-key work of Restorative Justice Ministries, but this article gives a taste:
Restorative Justice Ministries was started 12 years ago by its current director, Emmett Solomon.
"I've been called to this ministry my whole life," said Solomon, former head chaplain for the state's prison system. "We initially were advocating prison ministry. Now we are not so much about prison ministry as we are about after-care ministry."
Emmett feels incarceration is being overused in Texas and it is having detrimental results for both families and society.
"Every time that a prisoner gets locked up a family goes into crisis," Solomon said. "As a result, we are unraveling the fabric of our society at the lowest levels, and we are creating what could be a permanent underclass.
Our system is aiding in that process."
Emmett's aide, Bill Kleiber, is worried about how prison degrades inmates' ability to exercise personal responsibility. He sees RJM as a vehicle for correcting that.
"We are mentally damaged when we come out of prison. We are not allowed to think. We are not allowed to make any kind of decisions. The only decision I got to make was maybe what book I was going to read. Then they dump us out here with no preparation and say, 'Here's the free world, man! Here's some money,' and I don't even know how to handle this money," he said. "A lot of people ask us, 'Why are you wasting your time with those guys? They're only gonna go back in a couple of months.' But given half a chance, over 70 percent of ex-offenders never go back to prison."