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Monday, April 5, 2010



By Ike Griffin 

Note: Names of individuals and institutions have been changed.

It was the second or third Kairos weekend at Ferguson Unit that I met Anthony Wooley. He sat to my immediate left at the table of St. James. Tony was what you would call a well turned out man of less than thirty years of age, mild of manner and imposing of build. His ready, infectious smile set a tone for the table family of James, acceleratin bonding that inevitably takes place on such a weekend. Six inmates, all dressed in white prison garb, and three free-world volunteers began to share our lives in an easy, unguarded manner.

From DeKalb, Texas, Tony had married a girl from Texarkana and soon found himself embroiled in a sex perversion scandal that led him to prison. Tony was doing five years, but professed innocence of the crime. Working in prisons, we hear innocent pleas regularly, so I smiled understandingly, but thought less of him for trying to sell his story to what he thought was a gullible volunteer. I thought no more of it. It is not the job of a volunteer to become an advocate for a prisoner, though that happens from time to time. The Kairos volunteer’s job is to let thr residents know that we care about them, guilty or not. As time went by and the Kairos team returned monthly for a reunion with the participants, Tony and I got to know one another better and he revealed more of his story.

According to Tony, he had begun dating a beautiful white girl from Texarkana in High School. Of course their dating had to be done in secret because her father, a highly placed county law official, had forbidden his daughter to date blacks. After graduation from High School, she went on to college and Tony took a job in a diesel motor repair shop. After one year in college, the girl decided she was past the age of majority and agreed to elope with Tony. After a few months of working on reconciliation with her family, her father arranged to have them both arrested for sexual deviancy. At the trial, a prostitute came forth to testify she had had sex with both of them in a threesome on several occasions. Tony was sentenced to five years and his wife to three years in the state system. Tony was stunned that his wife's father hated him so much he was willing to fabricate testimony that would send his own daughter to prison. 

Tony's wife was nearing the end of her sentence and eventually was released and returned to her parents' home in Texarkana where she came under immediate pressure to seek a divorce. Tony continued to keep me posted as we met monthly. His wife lived at home under hostile conditions, but refused to initiate divorce proceedings. Instead, she continued to communicate with Tony, though the mail was not sent to her parents' home. She was able to contact the prostitute who had testified at their trial and convinced her to sign an affidavit saying she had been paid to testify in the manner she had but had not, in fact, had sex with either Tony or his wife.  

For the next two years, Tony suffered through the anxiety of knowing the pressure his wife endured living with her parents, one of whom she was secretly battling. She was working to get Tony out of prison, and her father maneuvering to keep him in. As his end of sentence date approached, Tony learned that the state was reviewing his sentence, and finally, he received word that his sentence was being reversed, but it would take a matter of weeks to expedite the paperwork. Ironically, Tony was ultimately declared innocent of the original charges, but had served more than the original sentence. He returned to his home in DeKalb. 

Mickey and I were driving over to New Orleans a few months after Tony's release and I decided to stop by DeKalb to look him up and see how he was progressing. I had no address for him, but DeKalb is a small town. We stopped at a local car wash in town and I asked a couple of the employees if they knew Tony Wooley. Their verbal response said they did not know him, but their body language clearly said the opposite. They obviously did not trust me. I bored them with a history of my work in Ferguson Unit and the circumstances of my relationship with Tony. Finally, one of them said, "He lives in the house with a porch two blocks down. He is probably on the porch right now. Sure enough, he was. 

Tony was working at the same diesel repair shop where he had worked before incarceration. His wife was still living with her parents, but they were seeing one another while Tony gradually rebuilt credibility, accumulating reserves lost in the prison experience. His plan was to move her back to live with him after he could hold his head up as a respectable citizen who could support a family. Tony wanted to forgive and forget past differences with his in-laws. He felt the best chance for that might happen when a grandchild presented itself for their consideration.

A year later, I called Tony to check on having a diesel engine overhauled for Kairos and learned all his plans had worked out; his family was united, with a grandchild opening the door to occasional, if not overly warm, visits with his in-laws.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010



Corrections cannot address all of the issues to which it is charged, particularly given recent budget restraints. Their first and primary responsibility is to hold separate from society those who have been duly convicted and sentenced by the courts. This they do with admirable efficiency. Very few prisoners escape given the high rate of incarceration in the United States. More challenging for Corrections are other charges.

Corrections does a decent job of keeping everyone safe within the confines of prison. Even so, prisoner on prisoner attacks are common and prisoner on officer attacks occur more often than anyone would like to admit. Given the attitudes and conditions of the population, how safe could it be? 

The most significant casualty of reduced budgets has been the loss of programming to change basic attitudes of inmates and prepare them for release. Education, job preparation, anger management, cognitive skills and dependency programs have suffered a dramatic loss. It is precisely these programs where not-for-profit groups can help deliver lost programming.

Non-profit charitable organizations are prepared to collaborate with Corrections to deliver programming for inmates, but collaboration is a difficult concept for Corrections to accept. Corrections is born of and built on control. The ontology of Corrections is control. It goes against the grain of Corrections to nurture a long lasting collaboration with an outside organization. The more common process is for Corrections to institutionalize any collaborative program that proves successful. Successful programs are thus stifled by policy and smothered to death in bureaucracy. 

Volunteer run collaborative programs are usually successful precisely because they are distinct from the system and must maintain their identity to deliver desired outcomes.

The following is from A Review of Research Literature on Factors Influencing Successful Collaboration
by Paul W. Mattessich, Ph.D and Barbara R Monsey, M.P.H. of the Wilder Research Center,  the A.H. Wilder Foundation, St. Paul, Minnesota and The New Community Collaboration Manual of the National Assembly of National Health and Social Welfare Organizations.

What makes collaboration work?

Collaboration is the process by which several organizations, most often of differing natures (voluntary, non-profit, governmental etc.) make a formal, long-term commitment to work together to accomplish a common mission related to critical and complex social issues of wide concern.Collaboration requires a commitment to participate in shared decision-making and allocations of resources related to activities responding to mutually identified needs.

Collaboration is the highest and one of the most difficult levels of strategic alliances.  It involves a more formal and sustained commitment than cooperatives and coalitions.  While each organization retains its uniqueness and autonomy, collaborating partners can accomplish more by working together toward a common vision than working alone.

Key Components:
·       Mutual respect, understanding and trust for
ü   each other.
ü   each other’s organizations.
ü   how those organizations operate.
ü   the cultural norms and values, limitations and expectations.
·       A view that collaboration is in each party’s self-interest and that benefits will offset costs such as loss of autonomy and “turf.”
·       Ability to compromise.
·       Members feel ownership of both
ü   the process/ the way the group works.
ü   the results.
·       Multiple levels of decision-making at every level in each organization.
·       Flexibility
·       Clear roles and guidelines
·       Adaptability
·       Open and frequent communication; interact often, update each other; discuss issues openly; convey all necessary information to one another and those outside the group.
·       Concrete attainable goals and objectives
·       Shared vision and strategy allowing the latter to evolve.
·       Requires sufficient funds and leadership

Collaboration requires:
·       Shared vision
·       Skilled leadership
·       Process orientation
·       Diversity/ Multiple Sectors
·       Accountability

Barriers and Challenges in Collaborative Efforts:
·       Competition and “turf” issues
·       Personality conflicts between representatives of member organizations
·       Racial or cultural polarization in the community
·       Differing norms and values about cooperation

Preventive Strategies to Minimize Barriers:
·       Keep the commitment and activities simple at first.  Evolve and grow when ready.
·       Make clear communication a priority.
·       Spend time getting to know each other.
·       Encourage members to be “up front” about their needs.
·       Do not avoid “turf issues” and hidden agendas.  Encourage negotiation and communications.  Bring in experts when necessary.
·       Plan activities that are fun and celebrate the accomplishments of the collaboration.  Recognize the contributions of the members and reward their accomplishments.

Ten Dangerous Collaboration Sand Traps!
  1. Loss of direction or focus
  2. Loss of leadership or struggles for leadership
  3. “Founding Member Syndrome”
  4. Unequal involvement and recognition of members
  5. Poor planning efforts
  6. Negative publicity
  7. Failure of planned projects
  8. Burn out or unrealistic demands on members
  9. Bureaucratic structure
  10. Turf battles and competition

Tuesday, February 23, 2010



Volunteers in Portland, England established the first Kairos faith-based residential community in The Verne Prison in April 1997. Similar residential communities inspired by the Cursillo movement had been operating in prisons in Brazil and Ecuador for over twenty years. Penelope Lee, former British BBC radio actress turned video producer, intrigued by the success of the Brazilian initiative, hastened to Sao Paulo to film a documentary of the project. Armed with her film, Penelope persuaded Her Majesty’s Prison Service to try a similar program in British prisons partnering with Kairos. The first effort, at The Verne Prison near Weymouth, proved so successful that the prison service encouraged expansion into four prisons within a year.

Barely one month following the Kairos dorm opening in England, Innerchange, the Prison Fellowship program, kicked off the opening of their initial effort in Texas, the first of its kind in the United States. Corrections was ready and waiting for a promising program to reverse abysmal and worsening recidivism outcomes.

The Florida Department of Corrections provided the next initiative. Recidivism studies performed by the Department on participants in the Kairos program at Union Correctional and Glades Correctional dramatically demonstrated the efficacy of faith-based programs. Their research showed a thirty-three percent drop in the recidivism rate of those inmates who had participated in Kairos when measured against a control group of like demographics who had not participated in Kairos. Data further revealed that continued participation in the faith community’s programs further decreased the recidivism rate. Representative Alan Trovillion, Chair of the Legislative Committee on Corrections heard of the study and insisted it be presented to state legislators for action. Florida statutes, regulations, and policies were passed or modified to enable faith-based communities to participate more directly in corrections.

The Florida Department of Corrections formed The Foundation for Partnerships in Correctional Excellence, an organization to work in support of the department in those areas difficult for the department to exercise direct influence. The Foundation established a mechanism to enable new residential faith-community initiatives. Kairos answered a Request for Proposals, outlining a Kairos Horizon program for Tomoka Correctional Institution near Daytona Beach. The Foundation secured a funding grant from the Commission on Responsible Fatherhood (CORF), The United States Department of Health and Human Services, and in November 1999, the grand experiment was launched.

Major collaborators in the Tomoka project shared a common vision but each held distinct objectives. Kairos Horizon program offered each of them a vehicle to achieve their particular objectives. For example:
• The Department of Corrections saw the program as a means of population control – an objective with political support. Innovative programming brought a fresh approach to departmental and executive branch leadership within Florida. Everyone in Corrections sincerely wants to see something good happen on his or her watch.
• The Commission on Responsible Fatherhood (CORF) saw the program as a means of reaching a group of men who were contributing a large percentage of irresponsible fatherhood and family violence problems within the state. CORF programs were already presented to offenders in the free world, but poorly attended. CORF felt that prison was the place to reach offenders.
• Faith groups find it difficult to find a venue in which to “visit the prisoner,” given the autonomous and cloistered nature of correctional institutions. Motivated religious organizations and volunteers find ample opportunity for service and access to prisoners with the establishment of a Horizon dorm.

Kairos’ long experience in providing safe and effective programs, presented by inter-denominational teams ministering in prisons, allowed all stakeholders to rally around Kairos in their joint effort to develop a faith-based residential program. The Kairos board encouraged the development and implementation of the “Tomoka Model,” but soon recognized departures from several basic premises of its ministry. Kairos Prison Ministry has always avoided paid staff at the institutional level, whereas Horizon requires paid contractors to serve its daily residential program. Kairos asked their executive director to develop a model program and form a new “sister” corporation to support it. Horizon Communities Corp. is that sister corporation.

The first Horizon “Interfaith” program came into existence in August 2000 at Marion Correctional Institution (MCI) in Marion, Ohio. Warden Christine Money had worked closely with Kairos, serving on its national board of directors, and as a member of the first Kairos team for women in England. After observing the development of both Horizon model and Prison Fellowship’s Innerchange program in Texas, she was ready to start a faith-based community at MCI. Warden Money wanted her Horizon community to produce servant leaders for the larger general population. As such, the program would not be purely Christian, but multi-faith including Jews, Muslims and Christians, and that community would provide peer leadership for other programs throughout the prison.

Oklahoma took the Ohio model and expanded it to include a Native American component, opening at Davis Correctional Facility at Holdenville. Horizon was learning to meet the needs of the incarcerated, Corrections and the faith communities while at the same time, playing defense against a litigiously active separation-of-church/state movement.

The next (I dare not say final) evolution of Horizon came when Florida Department of Corrections asked Horizon to provide a character-based dorm to mirror the faith-based dorm to provide services for those inmates who wanted access to programs but without the religious focus. This was, of course, a further move to escape litigation. To our total surprise, the mirroring character-based dorm was, within six months, providing the same dramatic personal conduct changes we had come to expect from the faith-based dorm. Dorm officers noted that the character-based side was even cleaner, quieter, more respectful of authority than the faith side. They speculated that federal policies guaranteeing the right to faith practice led faith-based dorm residents to see their participation as a right rather than a privilege, while the character-based dorm residents accepted participation as pure privilege. Both spirituality and ethical behavior remained strong in both dorms.

Following a direct request for collaboration, Horizon cooperates with the Florida Parole and Probation Commission. The commission keeps Horizon programs filled with participants who need preparation for release. All Horizon programs maintain core curriculum focused on:
1. Acceptance of self
2. Acceptance of others/relationships
3. Education
4. Citizenship
5. Job preparation/employability.

Horizon remains philosophically close to its Kairos origins. Kairos delivers a three day program designed to enable participants to develop relationships and minister to one another; Horizon delivers a year long program in which participants experience a sane, nourishing community built on mutual respect. Positive habits are learned through practice. By the time their year is complete, participants know that this lifestyle is what they have longed for and need and, upon release, will serve them well as they re-enter society.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


By Ike Griffin

The Kairos program came out of the Cursillo movement created by Eduardo Bonnin and other young men active with Catholic youth in 1944 as a means to soften the hearts of Spanish men, hardened by war, back into a loving relationship with community and the church. The name Cursillo is a short form of El Cursillo en Cristianidad, or Short Course in Christianity. “Kairos” is a Greek word meaning “in the fullness of time” or God’s special time, or at the right time, as contrasted with “chronos” or linear time.

Spanish men had largely given up participation in the church, leaving that socially required connection to their women. Boys, born into the church, would participate up to their Confirmation, after which they typically withdrew. Men were obligated to fight, first a bloody civil war spanning decades, then through the harshness of World War II. Spanish Christianity had long suffered the effects of the Inquisition. Twentieth century Iberia had inherited large migrations of Moors, Muslims, Jews and Christians, each adding complexity to civil strife over dominance. The Inquisition left a Christian Spain, but eroded the self-image of churchmen and accelerated their flight from daily participation in the church. That trend may still be present today, but in 1940’s Spain, they were already experiencing a post-war collapse of the institutional church.

Bonnin’s efforts to ignite an interest in religion led him to consult the brightest modern theologians and to study the work of leading psychologists of that period, including Carl Rogers and Erich Fromm. They began to understand that people need to find joy, mutual support and acceptance in religion, and that those elements were largely missing from the local experience. Bonnin’s group felt that small groups were the best way to deliver Godly healing, igniting love and compassion among participants. Through some divine intervention, they were led to shape an experience steeped in original blessing rather than original sin.

The first Cursillo experience occurred in 1944. Only the laity participated. Priests came in to conduct Mass, but otherwise had little involvement. Not until 1949 was Cursillo recognized by the Catholic Church, allowing it to rapidly spread around the world. Recognition by the Roman Catholic Church cost Cursillo its ecumenical approach, but the cost to the Catholic Church was an awakening of the laity and corresponding end of their total dependency upon the clergy. Whatever the costs, Cursillo became the most significant spiritual renewal movement to come out of the church in several hundred years.

A Cursillo was formed for women about the time the movement broke from the confines of Spain. Psychological aspects of confession and confrontation of personal failures required programs to remain single sex experiences.

In 1957, Cursillo came to the United States as a Roman Catholic program modeled after the Spanish movement. The success of the program in igniting the fire of God’s love in men’s hearts, renewing their interest in the church, and service to the community helped it grow rapidly into a nationwide movement. Other Christian denominations and churches recognized the power of the movement, but some of the non-liturgical churches could not abide with restraints put on the movement by the Catholic Church.

When a creative energy is oppressed, it seems to find a path to another form, manifesting itself in new and beautiful ways. So it was with the ecumenical aspects of the earlier Cursillo. Through newly empowered laity, real ecumenicity became possible, breaking forth in new form. The new ecumenical Cursillo, sprang forth as The Walk to Emmaus, Tres Dias, Via de Cristo, The Great Feast, Koinonia, El Camino, The Great Feast, Jubilee Journey and a score of other ecumenical expressions of the parent model. New coed programs spawned Marriage Encounter.

By 1975, the collective expressions of Cursillo had gathered considerable momentum. Models of the movement exploded through the liturgical churches as Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian expressions became evident. The movement spread rapidly across the United States and around the world with great force. In the year 2000, more than eighty-thousand people experienced the United Methodist Church’s “Walk to Emmaus” weekend. Ecumenical models of the movement continue to grow, while most denominational models seem to have peaked and show less growth.

Kairos Prison Ministry began in Florida in 1976 at Union Correctional Institution, with a group of men inspired to present a “Cursillo” in prison. Their program was fashioned from the ecumenical models of Cursillo, shaped and refined to address the unique environment of prison. Kairos is the prison expression of those movements. The effort spread beyond their wildest imagination! By 1990, there were 53 programs presented in eleven states. At the millennium year 2000, there were 246 programs in medium and high security institutions in 28 states, Canada, England, South Africa, and Australia vigorously maintaining active Kairos ministries. At the beginning of 2010, there are more than 440 programs in 36 states plus 8 foreign countries.

Kairos Outside is a program designed for women whose loved ones are incarcerated. Significant women of the incarcerated “do time” right along with their loved ones – often a lonely vigil of shame and isolation. Kairos Outside provides a safe place for these women to honestly confront their pain and begin healing, by experiencing Christ’s love in a way not always available in their denominational churches.

Kairos Torch is presented for juvenile offenders within the juvenile justice system and is growing rapidly. Many younger prisoners (under age 25) have reached physical maturity without having experienced unconditional love delivered through another human being, preventing, or at least retarding, their emotionally and spiritually maturity. Kairos Torch provides that experiential opportunity for them, belatedly but powerfully delivered.

Those who are fortunate enough to participate in a Kairos, Kairos Outside or Torch, are drawn, at least for a few days, from a familiar cold and harsh environment into a warm, nurturing environment. Almost invariably they recognize something they have longed for all their lives, probably without knowing how destitute and void of love their lives have been, not knowing the nature of the hole they carry in their heart. For this particular audience, the incarcerated, Kairos is a life changing experience. Kairos, it is said, moves ones world-view a short but critical distance, from the head to the heart.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


By Ike Griffin

Bill stood before the Rotary Club in Sanford, Florida in his painter white bib overalls. He had come directly there from painting the ATM at Sun Bank down the street. That he was the only person in the room in work clothes didn’t bother him in the least. “I am Bill Enter and I live down in Orlando. As you can see, I am a painter, and I have a contract to paint ATMs for Sun Bank. I am here to talk about my Kairos experience. I went through Kairos more than ten years ago, while doing five years as a sex offender. I began sexually abusing my stepdaughter when she was eight years old. By the time she was eleven, she couldn’t stand it any longer and turned me in to the authorities. I deserved to be in prison. The only good thing that happened to me there was attending Kairos, where I learned that people could love me in spite of what I had done.”

I had felt compelled to hire Bill to take over Advanced Kairos Training after watching him work as the rector of a Kairos weekend, ten years after he had been through a weekend as an inmate in that very prison. Incredibly, he had the nerve to tell participants particulars of his crime, unheard of in a prison setting. After witnessing that performance of fearless honesty, I asked Bill to join me in a presentation to a local Rotary Club. I wanted to see if his fearlessness carried into the free world.

Having told the Rotarians something of the work of Kairos in prisons, I introduced Bill as a graduate of the program. Bill began giving them the same brutal honesty he had delivered in prison as I quietly searched for a safe place to dive in case the audience started throwing things. He not only confessed his crime, he continued that he taught a Sunday School class at a church where his students were of the same age as his victim profile. Each year, he would visit every parent in their home to introduce himself, tell who he is, what he had done, where he had been and offer them an opportunity to move their child to another class. He had never lost a student.

Bill Enter was a convicted felon, sex offender, biker, devoted husband to his wife, trusted volunteer trainer employee of Kairos and became one of the best friends I have ever had. Bill died in a motorcycle accident coming through Baltimore on Interstate 95 on his way home from training seminars in Maine and New York. It was raining, and police investigators surmise that he was glancing down at his tank-mounted map when he ran into the back of a stopped automobile on the interstate.

Let me explain that one of the powerful dynamics of Kairos is built into talks by volunteers, who tell their own story of failure to be less than they were created to be. Vulnerability is encouraged because we cannot love one another unless we allow the other to see who we are. Wearing masks promotes more complex masks and relationships turn artificial. I felt very strongly that Bill Enter was needed to model and teach vulnerability among Kairos’ more than 20,000 volunteers annually. Yet, the board counseled me against the decision citing studies that sex offenders never heal, public opinion against this class felon, possible negative perception of the organization, etc.

Bill was hired and he and his wife moved to Orlando. Purchasing a home in a new development, he would go visiting neighbors every evening to introduce himself, explaining who he was, what he had done, etc. He would point out that there were several children in the neighborhood and he asked that all the parents keep an eye on him, just as he and his wife were vigilant of his activities.

That first Christmas, Bill revealed to me at our regular Monday morning share and prayer meeting before office hours that the local neighborhood had asked him to play Santa Claus at a Christmas block party. He said, “You know, I reminded them of my history, but they replied, ‘That’s okay, Bill. We will all be there – we’ll keep an eye on you.’” Following the weekend of the block party, Bill came in to our Monday meeting, blubbering and crying like a baby. “You can’t imagine how that felt to have parents hand me their children to bounce on my knee and lovingly inspire their anticipation of Christmas. The trust, the love they trusted me with… I cannot say I will never disappoint them - or fail, but I would rather die than disappoint any one of them.”

Bill began teaching Kairos volunteers, encouraging their fearless honesty, challenging those who wanted to preach. “Sounds like preaching to me. Don’t hide behind your piety. Inspire them that if you can make it, they can make it. Who has loved you enough that you can overcome your human frailties? It doesn’t matter how grievous your sin, half the people in the room carry the same guilt and they need to love you so they can know they are loveable.” Again, he pointed out, “Our regular confession is our protection against having our dependencies sneak up and bite us on the fanny. Inmates may admire your successes if you mention them, but they will connect with you through your mutual brokenness.” Bill carried a mountain of wisdom with him on his motorcycle and he could unpack the whole thing in very short order.

Bill was nervous flying, and typically rode his motorcycle to events that he scheduled around the country. Bill was a very casual dresser, perhaps because of the lack of luggage space. He enjoyed doing his seminars in bib overalls cut off just below the knees. One day I suggested that perhaps the organization called for a bit more dignity than he could muster on a motorcycle. He countered, “Ike, don’t lay that one on me. After incarceration, even a motorcycle has trouble offering all the freedom I crave. I need to sense the wind, rain, sun and smells of the world every day.” He continued, “I may take longer on the road, but I won’t cost more! I eat my meals beside the road, grocery shop at Safeway, have Kairos volunteers put me up overnight. You won’t be looking at any big expense statements from me. I have my laptop. You can reach me by email.”

One time Bill had scheduled seminars in Oklahoma City and Amarillo a couple of days apart and told me he wanted to fly this particular trip. He wanted to drive with his brother between OK City and Amarillo so they could stop by his mother’s house. He had been alienated from his mother since his incarceration and wanted his brother to arrange their meeting. She had not attended his trial, nor had she written to him in prison. Bill could not understand why he had become a criminal and his brother had not. He wanted to talk with her about their childhood history. Both Bill and his brother had suffered the same sexual abuse from their step father, both experienced all of the hurt and pain, but only Bill had turned criminal. Bill’s brother took time off from work to accompany him and did go into the house to seek permission for Bill to could come in, but she refused. Thwarted, Bill returned to Florida… dejected.

The following year Bill planned the same trip and this time she relented and allowed him into her home. They talked and cried, talked and embraced, talked and confessed. She had known what was going on between her husband and her sons, but she did not have the strength to admit it, felt powerless to fight it or stop it. To restore the relationship, she needed to know that Bill forgave her for not protecting him, but had to confess her complicity before he could offer his forgiveness. Healing hurts, at least for awhile.

On the 10th anniversary of Bill’s release from prison, he planned a party, inviting all of the men with whom he had done time. He planned the gathering at a state park near Orlando and invited everyone to bring something to put into a chain-gang Mulligan stew. Bill provided paper plates, chips and soft drinks. Bill was thrilled that about 100 ex-cons and some of their spouses arrived for the celebration. In reporting on the event at our Monday morning meeting, he pointed to the fact that many of these men were sex offenders. “As I looked around at the gathering, I was reminded that society believes sex-offenders can never be re-habilitated, but I will tell you that almost all of those men are making it in spite of all the barriers to re-entering society. They have been to prison and don’t want to return. They each have devised their own survival plan and they are not re-offending.” Because of intense press coverage regarding those who do re-offend, most people do not know that murderers and sex offenders actually re-offend less than most other classifications of ex-cons.

Bill’s funeral was held at Calvary Assembly Church in Winter Park, the largest church in town, and the space was needed. Perhaps because of the diversity of people gathered to celebrate the memory of Bill Enter, the pastor turned the service over to an open microphone, inviting anyone to come forward with stories of Bill. We heard from bikers, ex-cons, neighbors, prison administrators, ministry volunteers, employers and co-workers, who all in one way or another spoke of Bill’s fearless honesty. Each speaker had learned from Bill’s witness and gave tribute to his contribution to their lives, but the best witness was from his shrink – his therapist. She related that Bill was out on a conditional release. One of those conditions was that he see his therapist weekly. “Bill came to me his first week out of prison and we have been meeting weekly ever since. You will be interested to know that for the first few weeks, I was Bill’s therapist, but he turned the tables on me. He continued to pay, but has been my therapist since then.”

Friday, January 15, 2010



By Ike Griffin

Note: Names of individuals and institutions have been changed. Circumstances are real, and are encountered frequently enough to believe they are representative of any number of the incarcerated.

Jeremy was tried as an adult at the age of 15 and incarcerated in the Ferguson Unit, known as “a gladiator school” in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Most of the inmates at Ferguson were young, average age about 23, but Jeremy was one of the youngest. He was approximately 20 years of age when we met on a Kairos weekend in 1986.

Though his father lived in Florida, Jeremy had moved to Texas with his mother when he was 8 years old. After his parents divorced, his mother re-married and moved Jeremy and an older sister to a town near San Antonio, Texas. Shortly after the move, his step-father began to sexually abuse him, as well as his sister. Unable to live with the pain and guilt, Jeremy ran away from home at the age of 10. Sexually abused children almost invariably report feelings of guilt regardless of their inability to prevent being abused. Jeremy lived on the street in San Antonio. Soon, he was picked up by a sugar daddy who gave him refuge, but who also demanded sexual favors and introduced him to drugs. Jeremy, being a very attractive, small statured kid with an innocent countenance, developed an income delivering drugs.

At the age of 12 Jeremy ran into his first serious clash with the juvenile justice system. Found guilty of dealing drugs, the judge first put him into foster care but was willing to turn him over to his older sister, who had also left the abusive atmosphere of their home and had established herself in San Antonio, working at a respectable day job. No one mentioned to the judge that she supplemented her income through prostitution at night. Jeremy’s life was marginally better living with his sister in her one bedroom apartment, but when she entertained her boyfriends at night, Jeremy had to sleep in the closet among the shoes and remain very quiet.

I have often tried to imagine what life must have been like for Jeremy at this point. Forced by circumstances of survival into male prostitution and drug running as an adolescent, he was known in the neighborhood for certain activities and he received no encouragement to change from his contemporaries. Life became painful enough for him that at age 14 he killed a man, was tried and sent to an adult prison a year later. The torments continued, following him into prison.

Being more clever than most inmates, Jeremy was able to find jobs in safer environments of the prison, primarily as a clerk in an office with supervision. When I met Jeremy, he was a Chaplain’s clerk, safe from harassment inside and anxious to shape a better life for himself upon his eventual release. Jeremy developed a team of eight or ten men who wrote letters to troubled youth, encouraging them to get hold of their lives, straighten up, ask for help, do anything to stay out of prison. Addressing each letter Dear Teen-Ager, the team of writers used their own lives as examples of experience to avoid. They were limited to both sides of a single sheet of paper to tell their story and make their plea. Each letter was hand written and original. Once a month, I would collect all the letters and distribute them to 9th grade counselors in the public school system, who would give letters to students that needed to hear from someone who had been through some of their experience and ended badly.

Needless to say, after a couple of years, I knew the writers’ stories quite well. It is interesting to note that the more often they wrote their story, the more honest and fearless they became exposing themselves. I was fortunate to see some of these men released and attended the wedding of one of the men after he was settled. This is the same man who had confessed to me that he had participated in the gang rape of one of the other men in the writing group. I was there when he sought forgiveness of his victim and the same was granted… the two men became friends who would protect rather than exploit one another.

Eventually, Jeremy grew too old for the inmate profile at his prison and was transferred to a new unit. He asked that I write a letter to the warden explaining his writing project and requesting he be given authority to continue. This outreach required special privileges in regard to access to supplies, congregating with a team of writers, and passing letters out of the institution via a trusted volunteer to local school counseling services. To my knowledge, Jeremy continued the project for 15 years, through 4 institutions.

I want to think that Jeremy will make a successful transition into society; he has certainly done much to build a support community for himself, seeking to leave the old sex offender label behind, but the odds are against him. The sex offender label is so limiting in where he can live, what jobs he can apply for, how he can be received by society even if they know him, respect him and trust him.

It was not the homosexual community that abused him. It was heterosexual men who tormented him, forcing him into prostitution, drug dealing and worse. Heterosexual inmates continued to torment him in prison. What he learned from them was how completely effective sexual abuse can be in dominating another human being to establish a pecking order. That is a particularly difficult truth to forget. Actually, it cannot be forgotten once experienced. One can only learn to live with the memory, and the memory can be tolerated if love and respect is found from another human being.