"If you want to know what Easter is about, then there's no better place to find out than in the tombs of our society -- which is what our prisons are," he said. "On this, of all days, prison is the one place that Jesus would be. Believe me."
After Colson's death, most of the obituaries -- especially those produced in elite East Coast newsrooms -- focused on his Watergate role and, perhaps, on his pivotal work creating a new and powerful coalition of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants.
Working with a team of talented researchers and writers, Colson also produced shelves of influential books and commentaries that addressed almost every controversial issue in American public life and politics.
Sadly, this all-politics D.C. Beltway perspective may draw attention away from Colson's trailblazing work in prisons, which ultimately created a network of more than 14,000 volunteers in more than 1,300 prisons nationwide and around the world. He also founded the Justice Fellowship organization, which has worked for the reformation of America's sprawling, bloated, crowded and, all too often, destructive prison system.
"That's where Chuck developed his social conscience. It was in prison, in all of those face-to-face encounters with those forgotten souls," said former Colson aide Michael Cromartie, in an interview this week. He currently serves as vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, but once served as Colson's first research assistant after the creation of Prison Fellowship.
"Chuck was never happier than when he took off his jacket and loosened his tie in a dingy prison chapel somewhere, facing rows of men in metal folding chairs who had big, thick Bibles in their hands. ... He embraced as many as he could. He tried to learn their names and hear their stories. He tried to make a difference in there."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
(c) 2012 United Feature Syndicate
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