Watergate Revisited, the striking title of Prison Fellowship's Second Chance™ Month Gala at the Watergate Hotel, is as ironic as it is fitting. Charles Colson, President Nixon’s former "hatchet man," founded Prison Fellowship® in 1976 after spending seven months behind bars for a crime related to the Watergate scandal.
Although Colson's role in Watergate made him notorious for a time, his classic redemption story is not uncommon. Millions of Americans are affected by crime and incarceration, and many face a wide variety of challenges, known as collateral consequences, after their release from prison.
Since 2017, Prison Fellowship has led the nationwide effort to raise awareness about these barriers and unlock bright futures for people with criminal records through Second Chance Month. Still, many misconceptions linger around the idea of second chances. What do we mean by "second chances," and why do they matter?
THE KEY TO SECOND CHANCES
Approximately 70 million American adults have a criminal record today. Hindered by social stigma and 44,000 documented legal restrictions, these men and women, who have paid their debt to society, are still consigned to its periphery. Jobs, housing, and other life necessities prove hard to come by.
People who commit crimes must be held accountable, seek help dealing with issues beneath their behavior, and make an effort to repair the harm they've caused. But society's failure to extend a second chance means that the punishment never really ends, even when the official sentence is over. Once people have paid their debt to society, they should have a fresh start.
A second chance does not negate the severity of an offense. Rather, it affirms a person's value as more than the sum of their choices. Prison Fellowship believes that each person is made in the image of God, with inherent dignity, value, and potential to contribute to society. We don't make exceptions just because someone has spent time on the other side of the razor wire.
There are more futures at stake beyond those of returning citizens. When someone struggles to grasp a second chance due to collateral consequences, their children and families suffer innocently. The taxpayer loses, too—the United States loses approximately $87 billion a year in economic output because people with a criminal record cannot participate fully in the workforce. The lack of second chances contributes to higher recidivism rates, meaning more people stay behind bars on the dime of the country's citizens. Too often, the cycle continues: crime, incarceration, reentry, repeat. And the world misses out on the realized potential of every person held back by their past.
UNLOCKING BRIGHTER FUTURES
After his incarceration as a teen, Marcus Bullock prayed for a second chance. He knew the impact of outside support; his mother's consistent calls and letters sustained him. After he was released, he became an entrepreneur and created Flikshop, a company that delivers high-quality, security-friendly postcards to prisoners from their loved ones.
When asked for his thoughts on supporting second chances, Marcus said,
When I was in cell C13, I promise you that I never knew people like Prison Fellowship existed. … You're telling me there are people who go to work every day to help people in prison? If I did a survey asking my friends back then and asked, 'Do you think there's a nonprofit organization full of people who raise money to try and support you?' They'd be like, 'No way, what are you talking about?' But knowing that would change the way I came home to live. … And now I want to be one of the conduits for that kind of hope in someone else's life."
Spearheaded by Prison Fellowship every April, Second Chance Month raises awareness about obstacles people with a criminal record face, breaks barriers to their success, and creates second-chance opportunities.
Ask Tammy Franklin, Prison Fellowship Academy® manager in Oklahoma, and she'll tell you that her second chance meant everything. Years ago, she served as a chapel clerk during her incarceration. Everything changed when the chaplain demonstrated trust in Tammy and offered her tangible opportunities to succeed. "I really got a fire for doing the right thing," Tammy said. The memory keeps her humble and thankful, and it propels her forward still.
The movement to unlock second chances is gaining momentum nationwide. Last year, President Trump officially recognized April as Second Chance Month, along with 20 other jurisdictions and more than 275 partner organizations around the country—and 2019 is projected to be better yet. This April, Prison Fellowship and its Second Chance Month partners will continue raising awareness and support through a variety of events and activities. Press events, policy briefings, Second Chance 5Ks, Road to Second Chances prayer walks, Second Chance Sunday church services, and coordinated petition and social media campaigns are available opportunities for anyone who believes in second chances.
Our voices are louder together. We believe in second chances. Do you?
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