A second chance

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The Army supports program to keep ex-convicts out of jail.

Major Jorge Torres stands in front of the Arizona State Prison Complex in Phoenix. [Photo by Jose Manuel Guzman]

Across the street from the Southwest Divisional Headquarters is the Arizona State Prison Complex-Phoenix. The prison serves two purposes: It houses inmates with mental issues, and it serves as a processing center for the relocation of convicted criminals to prisons across the state. Chaplain Karl Alzen is the senior chaplain at the facility.

About three years ago, Alzen approached the Southwest offices to request volunteers to assist with the prison’s “Legacy Project”—a mentoring curriculum led by faith-based groups. The program targets inmates who are within two years of release or parole.

Major Tom Ford, Sun City Areas corps officer, was assigned to the Southwest Division as an outreach counselor when Alzen approached the headquarters. When Ford met with Alzen, he knew this program was right up his alley. As a newly commissioned officer in the early 1980s, he served as a chaplain in Hawaii working with kids in a psychiatric facility. Reassigned to the Del Oro Division, he served as a prison chaplain in the Chico Corps. Serving as a chaplain in the Southwest Division, he felt he met the criteria for the project.

He filled out an application, attended an orientation, and submitted to a full background check. He was then admitted to the program.

Relapse rate
Statistics show that over 90 percent of released inmates permanently reside in the county they were released in. Statistics also show that the recidivism rate of released prisoners in Arizona is around 75 percent in Arizona. However, the number quickly drops to 25 percent when mentoring is involved.

A new world
When a prisoner is released the goal becomes signing them up for the Army’s Bible correspondence course. This curriculum is offered free of charge and encourages them to not only read and study on their own, but also receive more in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Bible.

Many of the prisoners were incarcerated for a while and recognize that society—as they knew it—has drastically changed. The relationship with their mentor helps them become familiar with the new lifestyle and prepare them for acclimation into it. Most are eager for support and want to learn how they can best fit into their new world.

The program
Step one involves contact between the mentor and the inmate six months before release date. That relationship then extends for six months after. The cornerstone of the contact is to lay a strong foundation on the love of Christ and his sacrifice for everyone in a way the prisoner understands. Then, the counselor introduces classes on education in relationships, a Christian 12-step approach to addiction—since over 90 percent who are incarcerated have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs—skills, and spiritual formation.

Lives changed
Since getting involved in the program, Major Ford and his staff have seen some positive results. They started with six inmates, four of which are out. Ford and his team are currently involved with three of the unconfined men. Captain Jorge Torres, corps officer, Phoenix (Maryvale) Corps, holds Bible studies and life classes with the men once a week where some made decisions for Christ, one asked Torres to perform his marriage ceremony, and another expressed interested in becoming a corps member.

Currently attending a prison inmate ministry conference, Ford has no plans to call an end to his work with prisoners. “They deserve a second chance, one with Christ in their lives instead of drugs and alcohol,” he said. “My work with them is very rewarding.”

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