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2009 Conversations

2008 Conversations

2007 Conversations

2006 Conversations

2005 Conversations

Benji creator Joe Camp: Moral movies, personal cost (12/26/04)

Gloria Gaither: A Gaither family Christmas(12/19/04)

Allyson Feliz: Olympic medalist  shares passion for following Christ (12/12/04)

Dan Dean: Walking by faith (11/28/04)

J. Don George: Every church can touch the poor (11/21/04)

Brock Gill: Jesus is no illusion (11/14/04)

Ted Dekker: Good, evil and the battle for souls (10/31/04)

Bob Kilpatrick: CCM: Growing and changing (10/17/04)

Eugene H. Peterson: Man with a message (10/10/04)

Caz McCaslin: Fixing kids sports (9/26/04)

Jerry B. Jenkins: A novel approach to evangelism (9/19/04)

Natalie Grant: Living the dream (9/12/04)

Sharon Ellard: A life-changing education (8/29/04)

Steven Curtis Chapman: All things new (8/22/04)

Jim Ryun: Running to Jesus (8/15/04)

George Barna: Today’s church: By the numbers (8/8/04)

Randy Singer: Made to count (7/25/04)

Holly McClure: Morality and the media (7/18/04)

Don Miller and Richard Flory:Taking the Church to today's culture (7/11/04)

Cecil Richardson: Pastoring the Air Force’s 'Pastors' (6/27/04)

Barry Meguiar: Driven by faith (6/20/04)

Thomas E. Trask: Concerned for America (6/13/04)

Dr. David Yonggi Cho: The work of the Holy Spirit (5/30/04)

Tom Greene: High school: A great mission field (5/16/04)

Jennifer Rothschild: Walk by faith, not by sight (5/9/04)

Chaplain Alex Taylor: Forgiveness and restoration (4/25/04)

Joshua Harris: Not even a hint (4/18/04)

Nicky Cruz: Changing America (4/11/04)

Jason Schmidt: Lessons learned on life’s field (3/28/04)

Scott Temple: One church, many colors (3/21/04)

Michael W. Smith: Called to worship (3/14/04)

Representative Jo Ann Davis: Christians in politics (2/29/04)

Darlene Zschech: Sing, shout … just shout the praise the Lord (2/22/04)

Surgeon James W Long: For your heart’s sake, get fit (2/15/04)

Jerry R. Kirk: Battling pornography (2/8/04)

Dr Michael Ferris: A choice to heal (1/18/04)

Chaplain Al Worthley: Outside the four walls of the church (1/11/04)

2003 Conversations

2002 Conversations

2001 Conversations

Forgiveness and restoration

Chaplain Alex Taylor serves as chaplaincy service administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections. He oversees 102 chaplains working at 52 major institutions, 28 camps and 25 work release centers among some 80,000 inmates. Taylor spoke recently with Scott Harrup, associate editor.

PE: How did your ministry in prisons evolve?

TAYLOR: In 1984 I took a position with the Texas Department of Corrections as a chaplain in Huntsville. I served for 10 years in an institution with 2,200 inmates that included the Texas death row. In 1995 I became a regional chaplaincy coordinator in Texas. I was very involved with the post-trauma staff support teams. We worked in emergency cases, such as inmate assaults on staff, and did debriefings for family members who witnessed executions.

In 1999 I was recruited by the state of Florida to serve as the state chaplain. I was given two directives — to standardize chaplaincy ministry across the state and to introduce faith-based residential programs. By 2002 we had 10 centers across the state. These are therapeutic communities where inmates are grouped based on their desire to pursue faith-based programming as a means to really effect change in their life.

PE: You mentioned ministering to death-row inmates. What kind of witnessing opportunities did you encounter?

TAYLOR: People on death row are very much like people on the street in the way they react to the gospel. One death row inmate only wanted to read his Western novels and had no time for God. He didn’t want to talk about eternity or worry about the condition of his soul. But there are also those whom God works with and stirs their souls. I remember a man named Tony. He was constantly in trouble. He came to Christ through the witness of another inmate. As a result, he told his lawyers he no longer wanted to pursue his appeals based on a plea of innocence. He admitted his guilt. When his lawyers refused to pursue his appeal with an admission of guilt, he dropped his defense. I went to talk to him. “Tony,” I said, “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” “Chaplain,” he told me, “all my life I’ve lied about everything. I’ve finally found something worth living for and I’m not going to mess it up by lying.” Tony was executed, but something had gotten hold of him that changed him.

PE: Is reconciliation possible between inmates and victims’ families?

TAYLOR: There is an almost unbridgeable gulf between the people who have been hurt and the people who have done the hurting. Even when the inmate offers an apology to the family, they find it hard to trust him. Traumatic situations are so devastating that 20 years can go by and the victims can still describe in detail what they went through. Victims are forced to face their pain every time their case comes up for an appeal, gets in the newspaper, or even when a similar case comes up in the media.

The only consistent remedy, I’ve discovered, is when the victims apply Christian standards of offering forgiveness. An inmate on Texas death row once called me aside and showed me a letter he had received. He was crying. It was from a 9- or 10-year-old girl. She said that even though he had killed her mother, she wanted to forgive him. “Nobody should go through what I went through,” she wrote, “but my pastor says if I want to get closer to Jesus I have to forgive you. And I want to forgive you. I forgive you.” Nobody can make someone take that step. You have to make that choice.

PE: As a committed Christian, how do you minister in an environment of religious plurality?

TAYLOR: Our Constitution guarantees that everyone has an opportunity to practice his or her faith. I’ve found that if I am fair to people of different faiths, they become more receptive to mine. When we start with fairness in our dealings with different faiths that actually opens doors to ministry.

PE: How are you seeing believers getting involved in prison outreach?

TAYLOR: Where it used to be scheduling volunteers to come and preach or sing, we now have people who come in and share counseling skills or financial accounting skills or whatever. So many inmates come from a broken family background and miss the acquisition of social skills that most of us take for granted. Volunteers are coming in and sharing those kinds of practical insights. They’re willing to do more than just offer a short Bible study. Don’t misunderstand me. Bible studies are the basic building blocks for change, but everyone wants to do these. Some volunteers are willing to come in over a period of time and share information vital to helping inmates reintegrate successfully in society. Mentoring is getting a lot of attention in the public sector and in business, but it’s also becoming a larger presence in corrections. The inmates who are involved in it encounter someone who is genuinely and personally interested in their making it in the outside world.

PE: What are some of the challenges inmates face when returning to society?

TAYLOR: That transition is tough, and when there is a mentor to continue that relationship it can make all the difference. An inmate might say, “I’ve just been rejected for my 15th job application. I feel like going out and scoring some drugs.” And a mentor will be there to bring reason back into the equation. Without mentors, former inmates will simply go back to the people on the streets for advice, the very people who got them in trouble in the first place.

Ex-inmates are still sort of lepers in our society. It’s hard to find a job, and some jobs they are prohibited from holding. It’s hard for them to do some basic things, like reestablish their identity and get credit. Money can be very difficult to come by for basic things like transportation and groceries. Most states issue some money to inmates leaving prison, but the average inmate only gets $100 and the clothes he purchases are subtracted from that $100. Some work-release programs allow for saving more money in preparation for release.

A community of caring people can make the difference between staying out of trouble or committing a new offense. We need more organizations to consider opening homes or some kind of centers where men and women can come when they’re making this transition. Communities need to move from just getting men and women out of prison to moving them into our congregations and into our work force and supporting them with information they need day to day.

PE: Any final thoughts?

TAYLOR: Prisons are the closest mission field, and they have been growing steadily over the last 20 years. The population of women is growing very fast. Statistics tell us that the greatest at-risk group is the children of inmates. We can do something to stall that and change the history for those children and those inmates. Most of the people who are in prison today are going to be released and back in our neighborhoods. Nationally, about 60 percent of inmates end up back in prison for some reason. That’s scary. If we were doing something a little more proactive, we could impact that statistic dramatically. I see it as a mission that is clearly part of the church’s reason for being.

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