It's April. That means it's time for second chances.

second-chance-month-820x312.jpg

Have you ever heard of the month of April referred to as Second Chance Month? I hadn’t – until last week when I met some new friends involved with Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit with a mission of ministering prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, as well as serving as a leading faith-based voice for criminal justice reform.

Here are some mind-blowing facts: currently over 2.2 million men and women are incarcerated in the United States and 2.7 million children have a parent in prison.  Moreover, one in three Americans (approximately 65 million people) currently has a criminal record, a record that can limit their opportunities for jobs, education, housing and other privileges that empower them to contribute to their own well-being, the well-being of their families, and the good of society as a whole. 
 
In response to these staggering statistics, Prison Fellowship has deeply grounded its work in Christian evangelical belief, and in the ideals of prison ministry and restorative justice. On a national level, the Fellowship has played a substantial role in advocacy for a more fair and equitable criminal justice system in the United States, partnering with organizations such as fwd.us and helping garner the Christian community’s support for state and federal criminal justice reform (including the most recent bipartisan FIRST STEP Act, which was signed into federal law this past December).
 
Which is where the month of April comes in.
 
For the past three years, Prison Fellowship has advocated (with over 296 partners) April as “Second Chance Month” – a time for nationwide awareness of the barriers facing individuals who have completed prison sentences. This campaign, which has the holy Christian holiday of Easter as its backdrop and inspiration, reinforces of the power and importance of having faith in our fellow humans. If we give others a second chance (especially those who have paid their debt to society), and take active measures to truly help them make the most of that second chance, then not only are we acting with a sense of restorative justice, but also of compassion as well.
 
In other words, far too often we talk about crime and punishment without talking enough about redemption and renewal. That is what Second Chance month is about.
 
Yet, while learning about this organization/campaign has reminded me of the importance of advocating for changes in our deeply inequitable and excessively punitive criminal justice system, it has also also reminded me of something else. Something deeply and personally relevant.
 
Far too often, I (and perhaps you too) don’t think enough about second chances in our own lives. Who has given me a second chance? Who have I given one to? And even more so, who SHOULD I give a second chance too?  Do I hold my first-impression judgments too deeply? Do I embrace forgiveness enough? And do I keep a perspective of restorative possibility? In other words, do I act in a way that, regardless of a past transgression (actual or perceived), I offer others an optimistic second chance to do right?
 
This Second Chance April, let's consider how we can be allies with those who deserve second chances, not only in our society, but also in our own lives. And then let’s take some action to really help create those second chances. If we do, I have faith (just like my friends at the Prison Fellowship) that that we won’t be disappointed.
 
And that is a chance worth taking.

Seth Cohen