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  • Rob Will

To Everyone Concerned with Criminal Justice Reform

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

“The research linking personality to crime has been beset with a whole host of methodological problems. These problems have led many criminologists, even those who are favorable to this approach, to disregard the research as meaningless.”

-Vold’s Theoretical Criminology

People on the outside seem to have many misconceptions about the newly initiated Faith Based Programming that has been occurring here on Texas Death Row for the past 11 months. One of these misconceptions is that people seem to think the TDCJ staff and “free world” Chaplain volunteers are conducting the classes. This is not the case at all.

Field Minister Solley, photo by Ken Camp

Out in general population they have an Education Building staffed by correctional officers and civilian/free world volunteers. They organize the programming and teach the classes. There are some prison teachers assistants who help out with this. Back here things are very different: Our only teachers are the two prisoner Field Ministers Terry Solley and Troup Foster. To help illustrate the dynamics of exactly what this means, here is a basic breakdown of how the Overcomers class that we recently completed was conducted:

The 230 page workbook for the course is entitled A Daily Choice: Overcoming Life Controlling Problems. Here are some relevant descriptive lines lined from the back cover of the book:

Is your life controlled by an addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or smoking? Do you struggle with an eating disorder, overwhelming fears, a violent temper, or a consuming urge to manipulate others? This 12-Step 90-Day book will teach you how to deal with your failures, regain your self respect and take control of your future. Because the foundation of the Overcomers Recovery Support Program is the Word of God, this is a program that really works!

For 12 weeks each Friday at 3pm we listened to an hour long (prerecorded) class taught by Field Minister Troup that was broadcast on the prison radio station. 12 hours total. The workbook contains 90 daily lessons that involve a reading and short writing assignment. This probably required about an hour each day to complete. 90 hours total. He probably spent quite a bit more time on this, but let's say that Troup spent 2 hours each week having personal discussions with us about the class when he’d walk the runs on our sections. 24 hours total.

During the 3 months that we took the course, myself and the other 27 guys here on the Faith Based Sections of Texas Death Row, had a countless number of peer-support, study and “teach in” style discussions about our lessons. There is no way to calculate the amount of time we spent on this, so I will just give a very conservative estimate of four hours each week. 48 hours total. Altogether, that is a collective of 174 hours.

Staff and freeworld volunteers did not even have one single minute of involvement in those 174 hours. It was all Field Minister Troup. And us. In a recent conversation I had with Warden Dickerson I expressed my appreciation for the program and told him that I was really quite amazed that everything has progressed in such an effective, impactful and deeply inspiring manner. He replied with “I appreciate that, but you guys are the reason that this program has been successful. You all are the ones doing all the work. All I did was say ‘yes’ and give the go ahead for the programming to start”.

When ideas for beginning Faith Based Programming in Ad Seg/Solitary/Restricted Housing –and possibly even here on Death Row– first started being brought up amongst prison officials, some responded with outright scoffing condemnation. They said that such a thing could never work in Ad Seg and sure as hell couldn't work with the guys on Death Row. There were wardens on other units who thought along those lines and didn't even want to try to start such programming in their prisons.

Now Warden Dickerson was just given a Warden of the Year Award. The president of the Correctional Leaders Association recently came to this unit to tour these Faith Based Sections. All of the directors of the prison system in every single state and the federal system are members of this association. After leaving our section the CLA President went to tour the prison radio station area and he gave an interview that was broadcast. He talked about how impressed he was with the Death Row Faith Based Sections, congratulated Warren Dickerson, and said that the TDCJ director, Bryan Collier, is "unmatched" amongst his peers and has more influence than any other prison director in this entire country.

A group of influential Republican senators came to tour our sections after hearing about what all has been going on here. They left highly impressed. One day I glanced out of my cage door screen to see 50 wardens from various US states and even other countries standing out in front of our sections. That was pretty surreal. There have been all kinds of other people who have come to this unit to tour our sections. This is completely unprecedented. Nothing even remotely like this has even occurred on this prison unit and most certainly not on this Ad-Seg/Death Row building.

We are dealing with history here and the implications are very far reaching and absolutely bursting forth with potentiality. Just yesterday, a group of people involved with the education, rehabilitation and Faith Based Programming in another state came to our section. Yes, they are Christian -like everyone else who has been here– and this brings to mind another misperception that needs to be addressed: I know that some who are involved with anti-Death Penalty work and broader criminal justice reform have shown little interest in or been completely dismissive of the Faith Based Programming here.

I understand all of the reasons why but this needs to change. Anyone and everyone concerned with criminal justice reform should be highly interested in what's been going on here on many levels. Moreso, they should get involved. Right now, they just started an event on our sections. They have the concert equipment out and the GP inmate gospel band just finished an opening song. The field minister gave an opening prayer and introduced a guest speaker from the freeworld. Now, this speaker is giving a sermon.

This type of thing has been occurring every week or so since the programming started 11 months ago and should definitely be fully supported. Do you know why there hasn't been, say, a Buddhist group who has come here to do a program with mindfulness teachings, a Dharma talk, and sacred music concert? Because no one on the outside has even tried to do such a thing. TDCJ policy very clearly states that Muslim, Eastern Religions and Neo-Pagan programming is preapproved and mandated to be a part of all Faith Based programs in the system. Why has all non-Christian religious programming been completely banned here on Faith Based Sections on Texas Death Row? Because people on the outside have not even tried to address this.

Expanding the program to include other faith paths will greatly broaden its reach impact and effectiveness. Remember, that we are dealing with history here. Why are all of the long list of outside volunteers who have come here Christian (and specifically evangelical conservative Christian)? Because no one else has even tried.

Even as things stand everyone interested in Criminal Justice Reform should fully support the programming –and feel compelled to get involved– because it works. There are so many possibilities for expansion and ways that all that we are doing can greatly benefit the movement for Criminal Justice Reform and Restorative Justice. Republicans have absolute and complete control of the legislature in Texas. They determine what laws are passed in this state. The Republican senators and representatives who came to our sections are members of the legislative committees that deal with all things concerning the criminal justice system in the state of Texas. Many of the other people who have been here have extensive backgrounds in law enforcement.

There are very good reasons why all of these highly influential people are so very interested in these sections and have even been flying in from other states -and other countries– to learn more about the programming. One of the recent visitors is a Criminal Justice professor who specializes in teaching continuing education university courses to wardens and prison administrators. University professors who teach criminal justice courses and are involved in criminal justice reform and progressive politics should be just as interested.

The revival event just finished with a woman doing some pretty nice Christian singing and giving a really fiery and energetic sermon, followed by another song from the gp gospel band. Field Minister Troup just now handed out the workbook for the new class we're starting this week. I told him what I was writing about and asked him if he minded if I talk about some of his background, including what he is in prison for. Troup told me no and added that those things are part of his testimony.

Troup is serving a life without parole sentence for a capital murder he committed that involved drug dealing. The prosecutor in his case sought a death sentence and tried to send him to Death Row. A single juror holdout prevented this. After entering prison, he continued being involved in drug and gang activity and this landed him in Ad-seg/solitary. It was there that Troup had a real serious Christian conversion experience and renounced his gang membership and any involvement with drugs. He got out of seg and was admitted into the field minister program where he obtained a bachelor's degree in theology and graduated as part of the program's first class in 2015. Troup is a very skilled and highly effective mentor, programming coordinator and peer educator. His work has directly changed many lives and in doing so prevented crime, reduced recidivism, and helped make society better. He is a shining example of what can be achieved with the Faith Based Programming.

Everyone concerned with criminal justice reform should absolutely be very interested in what's been going on with the Faith Based Programming here on Texas Death Row. There's so very much potential for future development.

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