August 13, 2009
After serving 19 months in prison, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is looking to return to the NFL. As I record this, it isn’t clear which team will risk the virtually certain public-relations nightmare and sign the former Pro Bowler.
But whatever happens, Vick is in a far better position than nearly every other man being released from prison this or any other year.
Why? Because he possesses a rare set of skills. Only 32 men are good enough to start at quarterback in the NFL. Add Vick’s previous success, and some team will be willing to take a chance on him.
What’s more, while many people hate Vick for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring, the sentiment is by no means unanimous. There are plenty of fans who want him to see him play again.
But it isn’t only fans. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, one of the most respected men in football, visited Vick in prison. Dungy, a Christian with a passion for prison ministry, recently said that he “firmly believes” that Vick “deserves a second chance in life.” Writing in Sports Illustrated, Dungy told readers that Vick’s “future, just like those of thousands of other inmates around the country, is worth saving.”
As I said, Vick will probably get that second chance. However, the same cannot be said about the vast majority of the “thousands of other inmates” Dungy mentioned. While Americans are ready, even anxious, to forgive celebrities’ transgressions, they can be downright vindictive when it comes to ordinary offenders.
This is something that ex-offenders in Philadelphia know all too well. Two years ago, the city created a program that would give employers a $10,000-a-year tax credit for every ex-offender they hired. The goal of the program—to reduce crime by reducing recidivism.
Yet in the first year of the program’s existence, not a single employer applied for the credit. Why? In large part because they feared the consequences of being publicly identified as hiring ex-offenders.
The recession isn’t helping matters. Even in good economic times, ex-offenders often have trouble finding work after their release from prison. In some communities, 75 percent of ex-offenders are out of work a year after their release. And these are hardly good economic times.
It’s in everyone’s interest to change this. Ex-offenders need a way to support themselves and their families if they are going to return to a law-abiding life. Almost as important, work and the responsibilities associated with the job promote virtues and community ties that can prevent their re-offending. If the adage “idle hands are the Devil’s tools” is true of any group, it is most certainly true of ex-offenders.
The link between idleness and recidivism is why all of us have a stake in seeing that ex-offenders find work. Even if we are not interested in saving someone else’s future, our own future is made safer by helping the 700,000 men and women who leave prison every year find work if they want it.
That’s why we at Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint firmly believe that helping ex-prisoners is both the right and smart thing to do. Visit us at PrisonFellowship.org for more information.
Note: This commentary delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.