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Faith-based Prison Seeks Lifelong Change: Inmates choose program, participation voluntary

Ron Word

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LAWTEY - For 22 years, Curtis Cason has been unable to shake the cocaine demons he blames for putting him behind bars time after time.

An admitted six-time loser, Cason has been caught in the revolving door of recidivism that snares more than 40 percent of Florida's inmates.

But the 47-year-old Cason thinks his participation in the nation's first faith-based prison at Lawtey Correctional Institution will give him the tools to remain clean and free when he's released in about three years.

"Since I got here, there have been great changes," said Cason, who works in the prison chapel's library and would like to work with at-risk children after he's released. "My commitment to Christ is a lot stronger."

From the outside, it looks much like any other prison. Razor wire atop tall fences sparkles in the sunshine. But it differs in its programs. Along with regular prayer sessions, Lawtey offers religious studies, choir practice, religious counseling and other spiritual activities seven days a week.

Lawtey, about 30 miles southwest of Jacksonville, was transformed in December from a regular prison to one welcoming inmates who seek a religious life, regardless of faith. Participation of the 750 inmates is voluntary, and they always are free to go back to regular prison life elsewhere.

Read the entire article on the Tallahassee Democrat website.

Posted: 9/4/04



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