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Imaginative generosity

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[Editor’s note: This is part of continuing series of profiles of civic and philanthropic heroes.]

By Claire Gaudiani

Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries fights recidivism.

People in prison are paying their debt to society. They are also wildly disproportionately from poor families and disabling childhoods.

This does not excuse illegal activity. Generous people do work teaching in prison, but for an imaginative person like Chuck Colson, while prison terms get served, fellow citizens might help transform the hearts and spirits of prisoners and send their lives toward a better outcome than their pre-prison lives aimed them toward.

Contributions from countless generous citizens make this work possible.

Colson, in 1976 after leaving prison himself in the days post-Watergate, founded a Prison Fellowship Ministries program that currently operates in 50 states and 93 countries.

Prison Fellowship is based on the idea that recidivism occurs only when the prisoner has not experienced a change of heart for the better while in prison.

A faith-based 501(c)3 organization, the program acknowledges that the people in America’s prisons need help to develop positive relationships with people outside of prison and need to receive encouragement, acceptance and expectations for accountability from those on the outside.

The prisoners need educational and spiritual training to build and practice the life skills likely to aid their transitions to successful post prison life in society.

Does the program work?

The answer is simple. Only 6 percent of those who have experienced Colson’s Inner Change Freedom Initiative return to prison within three years.

The citizens who succeed return to their families, work, pay taxes and perhaps even volunteer in programs to improve their communities.

In economic terms, prisoners who do not return to prison become assets to society instead of cost centers — costs in the prison system and in the expenses that crimes and violence impose on tax paying citizens.

The person and his or her family clearly get great advantages, too, from this generosity.

Personal generosity by citizens who feel personally responsible for the quality of society and the economy makes a difference no other factor can make.

Philanthropy pays off.


Claire Gaudiani is a professor at The George H. Heyman Jr. Center Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University and the author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism.

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Other columns by Claire Gaudiani:

Helping hands [9.20.04]

Change agent [10.11.04]

Retailing generosity [10.25.04]

Prescription for change [11.22.04]

Whitewashing history [12.06.04]

Breakthrough philanthropy [12.20.04]

Critical thinking [01.03.05]

Tsunami lessons [01.17.05]

Making money [02.01.05]

Pension payoff [02.14.05]

Beyond the self [02.28.05]

Enlightened self-interest [03.14.05]

Taking chances [03.28.05]

Urban revolutionary [04.12.05]

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