The Clapham Circle, an informal but influential community of about 30 like-minded souls outside London who plotted good deeds together with William Wilberforce, effected the transformation of Victorian England. They first abolished English ships from the slave trade and then slavery from England, founded the British colony of Sierra Leone (a home for ex-slaves), founded schools, reformed prisons, protected Sunday, started SPCA, implemented proper urban drainage systems (probably saving more lives than any medical procedure except vaccination), opened India to missionaries, reformed manners, and helped prostitutes and their children. Their organizations were the first of what are now known as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) throughout the world.
I recently read a blog from a dedicated Christian Ph. D. asserting that research points to the pursuit of the American Dream as a source of criminogenic behavior. In response, I penned this alternative theory:
Although scholars can contribute tremendous, nuanced insights to this important topic, perhaps a deeper, underlying issue is at work. People might commit crimes for reasons other than just psycho/social pressures stemming from the American culture. Perhaps they have a spiritual nature which suffers from an unredeemed imperfection called 'sin'.
Greed, lust, anger and power-addictions, and all their criminal manifestations, might be symptoms of man's desire to be God. If the real creator-God does not fill one's spiritual void because we've repelled Him through sin, we could then reasonably postulate a vacuum within that individual's spirit which hungers to be filled with all the toys and trappings of the American dream.
If I can't have the real thing, and the hunger just doesn't disappear, I'll be driven to accept a man-made substitute. Then, without a legitimate, socialized means to contain those powerful motivations, one might turn to anti-social, impulsive, even criminal behavior to either narcoticize the pain or to corruptly satisfy those illicit cravings. Admittedly, this is not an evidence-based theory, but human history provides powerful anecdotes as a witness to its legitimacy.
America has criminalized father-absence. Without excusing their bad behavior, we're coming into the jails and prisons to redeem those who made bad decisions because Daddy was never home.
Moses went to Pharaoh to retrieve the children of Israel. He told the ruler, "Thus says the Lord: 'Let my people go!'"
Likewise, we're going to the Wardens and Sheriffs and District Attorneys and Judges, saying "Let God's people go."
While sitting in the back of a church in the east end of Richmond on a Saturday morning, I listened to about 40 men, many of them former prisoners, all of them fathers, describe the systemic barriers which seemingly conspired to keep them from living a peaceful life. Between the “Baby Mama Drama” and the “Have you ever been convicted?” questions on job applications, these fellows felt deep frustration at their life circumstances.
I am a problem solver by nature, and a consultant by profession, but not too proud to say that the complex problems confronting those men overwhelmed me. I felt trapped by the excruciating detail of their stories and wondered to myself how I might react in similar circumstances.
On September 29, 1962, I walked up the steps of E. C. Glass High School along with Lynda Woodruff – the first two black students to desegregate the school system in Lynchburg, Virginia. In March of that same year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Lynchburg in support of our local civil rights efforts. He had been invited by a young pastor, Dr. Virgil Wood, who was to later serve on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Part of the irony was that the auditorium at E. C. Glass was available to the public. Dr. King, by right, spoke in the public auditorium at the school that we had to win a court order to attend.
For 17 years I have been a consultant for the Winslow Research Institute (WRI) out of Discovery Bay, California. WRI markets a very professional, personality assessment, useful in pre-employment screening and the development of staff members. Tapping some relational equity with the founder, William Winslow, I asked him to consider providing a low or no-cost set of profiles for the inmates in Portsmouth and Richmond City Jail and at Deep Meadow Prison. He asked, “What do you need?” I replied, “We need to profile about 100 men at each of three locations.” Winslow immediately replied, “I'm in,” and provided 300 Dynamics Profiles at no cost ($60,000 street value). This was an incredible act of generosity and demonstrated a sincere heart for these prisoners. We now had a personality assessment and skills assessment at our disposal.
After realizing the need for employers to understand the skillset of prospective employees who were still incarcerated, we set out to find the best online skills assessment. We heard of a group, Edison Systems, in Dearborn Michigan which had landed on the INC 5000 list of the fastest growing companies in America. We asked for a demonstration. Kevin Watson and Will Owen gave us an online tour whichdeeply impressed both of us. To our request for training certification, they replied, “Sorry, but we don't certify outside professionals. We have 400 employees. You seem like nice guys, so you're welcome to come work for us, but we don't train outside parties to represent our services.” I replied, “Yes, but we have dozens of men in VA prisons and jails who could benefit from your program.” They said, “We'd love to help, but we just don't certify.” I said, “Take me to your leader.” We held a conference call with their CEO and President and showed how their skills assessment could be powerfully applied as we conducted The Job Readiness PredictorTM.
To their credit the leaders of Edison Systems said “We want to help. We will make an exception for you.” So Dr. Cardwell and I soon drove to Michigan to be certified.