- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

Every year, 600,000 or so prisoners are given their walking papers to return to a neighborhood near you. The odds of their walking the straight and narrow are overwhelmingly against them, with an estimated two-thirds likely to be rearrested within three years of their release. The annual tab is staggering because American taxpayers spend $60 billion to keep criminals behind bars (compared with the $34 billion we spent on the Department of Homeland Security’s budget last fiscal year). Our wallets are wedged between a rock and a very hard place.

Sometimes, we pay upward of $40,000 per prisoner. Either we can allow policies to continue as they have been and throw good money after ornery lawmaking, or we can change course slightly and experiment. President Bush said as much in his 2004 State of the Union address: “a plan to harness the resources and experience of faith-based and community organizations in dealing with the challenges of helping returning inmates contribute to society.”

Whether we like it or not, the ex-offenders are coming back, many to homes with no hearth. When they return in such large numbers, they put a strain on our police and sheriff’s departments, which are responsible for keeping track of ex-offenders. Some neighborhoods are overwhelmed by the sheer number of ex-offenders, with local and county governments establishing halfway houses and group homes, and court-intervention and counseling sites in traditional residential neighborhoods — often depressing housing values in the process.

The Second Chance Act, federal legislation that has bipartisan support, offers a different course. While the bill, which failed to get through the 109th Congress, muddles some of the taut lines that ordinarily distinguish law-and-order hard-liners from progressive Democrats, it fits comfortably into the mold of compassionate conservatism with a faith-based component. In fact, the Second Chance Act helps explain why “blue states” in the Northeast are willing participants in the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative when compared to “red states” and other regions, according to a 2006 study by the Joint Center for Political Studies.

Ex-offenders often return home with no family support, no job skills and no means to support themselves, circumstances that swing wide the revolving door to recidivism. Sometimes, faith is all an ex-con has.

Demetrius Davis walks in faith. Boxing since he was of school-age, he wears his Christian faith as comfortably as he does his boxing gloves. But that wasn’t always so. Demetrius grew up in the ring. His father is renowned former Golden Gloves champ-turned-trainer Adrian Davis and, his mom, Brenda, is the longtime “go-to-man” for the regional Golden Gloves. (The Davises are proprietors of Round 1 Gym.) In a way, Demetrius has been punching his way through life since he was a tot.

In a recent interview, Demetrius, now 38 years old, chose his words carefully, reluctant to tell this stranger the details of why he landed himself in prison. So I let Demetrius’ sleeping demons lie and allowed his explanation of becoming “a follower not a leader” speak for itself.

A lover of sports, he played football and basketball as a teen and accepted the fact that boxing is literally in his veins. He’s been ranked by the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council and International Boxing Organization, and points out that his “dad taught me everything I know. … He will always be my trainer.”

Understand, the list of boys and men with whom Demetrius has had to share his dad is quite lengthy — Hasim Rahman, Sharmba Mitchell and William Joppy, to name a few — and they all made long green following Mr. Davis’ lead. Such a list easily could shake the faith of the proudest man-child, but Demetrius doesn’t flinch. “I thank the Lord for him every day,” he says.

Sensing that Demetrius had become a bit more comfortable with this stranger, I turned the conversation to leadership, asking him what advice he had for boys and men who are looking in all the wrong places for leadership. “Get to know God,” Demetrius replied without hesitation regarding his personal faith-based initiative. “I’m not supposed to be here talking to you right now….Get them in the gym…. They need more people who care about them around them. … Most people don’t understand. … [They are] glorifying the bling-bling. … [After prison] they revert back to the same environment.”

“The same environment.” Violent crime. Drug wars. Gangs. Gun control. Rampant substance abuse.

It costs on the front end. It costs on the back end. We pay as individuals for the consequences of our actions and as a society for the consequences of our inaction. Sometimes, we have to walk on faith and give a person a second chance.

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