In recently writing about the Overcomers class that we completed as part of the newly initiated Faith Based programming here on Texas Death Row, I gave some insight into the coursework. There are a few other aspects worth mentioning. In addition to the daily reading and writing assignments we also had to write out daily Bible verses.
There is a written prayer after each assignment, followed by this instruction: Write this Bible verse on a small card and keep it with you throughout the day. Read it often, think about what it says and challenge yourself to memorize it. The verse follows. I will send out half of the cards I wrote so an image can be posted of what this looks like (sending all 90 out would just cost too many stamps!).
I know there are many people involved with Criminal Justice Reform who will have an aversion to anything considered “Faith Based” (ie Christian) and be skeptical of any therapy program that included a workbook with Bible verses on every page. I have been involved with prisoner rights and education, anti-death penalty work and broader criminal justice reform for 20 years and I had never heard of such a thing until recently. I have interacted with many people on the outside in the movement and I am sure they have never come across classes like Overcomers and other faith-based programs.
They work though and this is the most important thing. Classes like Overcomers can be beneficial for non-Christians– I myself have experienced this– but they're exceptionally powerful in bringing about life-changing transformation for people with a Christian background. Imagine a guy starting the course and a lesson that discusses how compulsive drinking is an obvious sign that a person has a life-controlling problem causes some serious reflection. Then, a lesson that describes the process of a person learning to rationalize compulsive behaviors to continue in their false security hits him hard. For the first time in his life he realizes that he has engaged in all kinds of rationalizing behavior and has been blinded by self-deception. He now knows that he does have a drinking problem– along with underlying problems– and starts to realize how much hurt he has caused to himself and others. Then he flips the page to this Bible verse: “Destruction is certain for you who get up early to begin long drinking bouts that last into the night.” (Isaiah 5:11) This is very enforcing.
The lessons are teaching him to do the hard work of identifying his wrong thinking and beliefs that have led to wrong behaviors. He is fighting with himself to process thoughts appropriately so he will only engage in appropriate behaviors. The self-examination and character inspection is kind of kicking his ass. But then he writes down this verse: “And He has said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for your power is perfected in weakness’”. ( II Corin 12.9) Inspiration. Motivation. Scripture bolstering faith, faith fueling positive behavior change.
Now he possesses the strength of vulnerability to truly learn and grow from the lessons in the section entitled, Step Nine: I Make Sincere Amends to the People I Have Harmed, and Forgive Those Who Have Harmed Me. Each Bible verse he encounters helps give him focus and inspiration as he learns more and more. The Day 89 lesson is entitled “God's Love”. The final lesson for Day 90 is entitled “Guidelines for Helping Others” and it lists nine such guidelines. The scripture citation that follows very appropriately references the righteous Golden Rule: If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God's law. (Romans 13:8)
Over the three months that we took the course I witnessed just this type of dynamic occur. There were times when we'd be having group discussions– which could essentially be group therapy sessions– and a guy would be dealing with some serious negative thought patterns. Others would interject with scriptural citations or commentary that would sway the guy into more positive thought patterns.
Another part of the Overcomers program is after Day 37 we had to start filling out a Daily Character Inspection Chart. This can be a highly revelatory experience! I will send out one of the blank charts to be posted with this. Each day we had to examine our thoughts and behaviors in relation to the list of 24 Positive Character Qualities and the corresponding list of 24 Negative Character Qualities. We placed a ✔ in the box if we exhibited more of the positive quality and an X if we exhibited more of the negative quality.
Most guys here are guilty of committing terrible murders. Some guys are here for “law of parties” type cases in which they're accused of participation in murder by association. Some of us are innocent. Many guys have dealt with deep feelings of shame and self-hatred for past acts they've committed and harm they have caused others. This can be a hindrance to participating in the process of Restorative Justice, which– as the Bridges to Life course we took explains– contains the elements of: Responsibility, Accountability, Confession, Repentance, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restitution.
During discussions of our daily chart inspection inventory some of these hindering thought patterns would come up. Again, others would use scriptural citations to help inspire guys to break that cycle of negative thinking. The following scripture is one that came up time and time again: “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old things passed away. behold, all things have become new”. (II Corinthians 5:17).
A year ago if someone would have asked me if I would like to voice support for– and perhaps participate in– a three month 12-Step style therapy and recovery program which claims to work because it “is established with Christ as a solid foundation”, and includes a 90 lesson workbook with Bible verses on each page, I would have replied with a concise “Um, no”. I would not have even understood how such a thing along with the other Faith Based programming could work, much less how it could tie into broader areas of crime prevention, prison reform, community well-being, family healing, Restorative Justice and Criminal Justice Reform. Now I do. And I think it isimportant for people on the outside who are interested in these things to know more about what's been going on here with the Faith Based Programming