Like countless others before him, Jonathan Willis rediscovered God in the solitude of a Colorado jail cell, 10 months after he was charged with murder, says the Denver Post. “It’s natural to reach out to God in a period of duress,” says Michael Spotts, a volunteer chaplain at the Adams County jail. “The thing that tinges the jailhouse conversion with cynicism is that people like Jonathan killed someone. It’s inexcusable – horrible. But the genuineness of conversion can be found in absolute confession of what was done wrong, a seeking of repentance.” Against the advice of his attorney, Willis, 25, pleaded guilty – knowing that he was sentencing himself to life without possibility of parole.
Bolstered by President Bush’s signing of the Second Chance Act, which promises more money for faith-based programs to help rehabilitate prisoners, corrections officials and religious volunteers are testing the still largely unproved theory that faith can not only salvage criminals, but – in the long run – make the rest of us safer, too. Credible research on the effectiveness of faith-based programs remains sparse and inconclusive. Still, both corrections experts and volunteers agree that such efforts, coupled with education, counseling and other therapies, could be part of the solution. Says a Colorado corrections official: “Without question, if somebody had a true spiritual conversion – not the jailhouse kind that gets all the jokes, but the kind where they develop a spiritual base – I’d be almost able to bet a year’s pay, without worry, that they’re not going to reoffend.”