Believers and non-believers, the right and the left, can agree on this: Men and women who've done their time deserve a second chance.
On April 2, the President signed a proclamation declaring April to be "Second Chance Month." In the declaration, he said "we celebrate those who have exited the prison system and successfully re-entered society."
He added, "We encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life and emphasize our belief in second chances for all who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around."
If you're thinking that this idea sounds, well, Christian, you're right. While "Second Chance Month" is a recent phenomenon, it's based on two ideas from the Christian faith: redemption and restoration.
Second Chance Month is, in the words of Prison Fellowship, (one of the principal forces behind its creation), a "bipartisan national movement" that aims to address what it calls the "second prison." That "second prison" is the hopelessness that often sets in after someone is released from prison. For the sixty-five million Americans with a criminal record, access to the kinds of things the rest of us take for granted can become a constant, and often futile, struggle.
There are, by some estimates, more than "48,000 collateral sanctions . . . not counting local laws enacted by municipalities," applied to those who have served time. These collateral sanctions put housing, employment, education, and "other things necessary for a full and productive life," out of reach for many.
This is not only unjust — after all, these people have served their sentence—it's counterproductive. As BreakPoint This Week co-host Ed Stetzer noted in Christianity Today, "employment is one of the greatest predictors of a formerly incarcerated person becoming a successful and productive citizen."
That is why Prison Fellowship has helped create a bi-partisan and unlikely alliance that includes, among others, the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation, to find and promote ways that "reduce barriers [that keep] formerly incarcerated Americans from successfully rejoining society." These include "raising awareness of the importance of second chances through a press event, [and] policy briefings." They also include "'Second Chance Sunday' events held by churches, and coordinated petition and social media campaigns." They even include "Second Chance 5K" runs.
It is difficult to imagine a more fitting tribute to Chuck Colson. Upon his release from prison, Chuck had his new-found faith and something else most others did not: a network of support and friends who believed that he was a new creation. That's why he founded Prison Fellowship — to mobilize churches to bring the good news to those inside prison, and to prepare churches to welcome them when they walk out of prison. Chuck knew that if Christians didn't lead the way in making the possibility of restoration a reality for the formerly incarcerated, then no one would.
After all, as Ed Stetzer reminds us, "The gospel revolutionizes our attitude toward those who harm. Not only do we treat others differently because of our own experience of God's mercy and grace, but he has called us to be part of the restoration process."
In light of that calling, "Second Chance Month" should be a big deal for us. It's what God has put us here for. Chuck understood that. And so should we.
To find out how you and your church can participate in Second Chance month, visit BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and I'll link you to all the information.
Second Chance Month 2018: Restoring Those Who've Served Their Time
To find out about opportunities to support Second Chance Month and learn how to promote second chances for people who have paid their debt to society, click here.