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June 23, 2005 Edition

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Eye on the Capitol
Grand Mom

Correction policy changes

photo of Barbara Sella
Eye on the 

Barbara Sella 

Wisconsin's policy on corrections seems to be undergoing a gradual but potentially profound shift.

After years of prison expansion and growing inmate populations, there appears to be a bipartisan consensus forming that more needs to be done to educate, treat, and reintegrate people who run afoul of the law.

Governor Doyle presented a budget that does not open any new prisons but instead provides new funding for the treatment of inmates with drug and alcohol addictions.

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) went even further in the direction of rehabilitation.

Earlier this month, the 16-member JFC issued its amended budget for the Department of Corrections and included three provisions that had not been in the governor's budget.

Ex-offender program

The first was a unanimous motion to provide a total of $250,000 to three faith-based organizations that work to reintegrate ex-offenders.

Word of Hope Ministries in Milwaukee provides employment services for 18 to 24-year-old individuals released from Wisconsin prisons. It offers these young ex-offenders a supportive community, individual mentors, and linkages to the world of work.

Project Return, also of Milwaukee, is an ecumenical non-profit that has been working for the past 24 years to help ex-offenders find employment and housing through counseling and referral.

Madison-Area Urban Ministry is another ecumenical coalition that has established a number of initiatives to educate the public about the state of our corrections system and to help reintegrate ex-offenders. Among these, MUM's Circles of Support program matches an ex-offender with four or five volunteers who meet regularly to listen, encourage, and hold ex-offenders accountable in the difficult process of re-entering the community.

Mental illness

The Joint Finance Committee's second proposal is to create a pilot program for inmates with severe and persistent mental illness so that when they leave prison they will have intensive wrap-around services.

As important as all of these programs are, however, they are only able to address one part of our state's prison problem - recidivism. They aren't equipped to prevent people from going to prison in the first place.

Diversion proposal

For this reason, the JFC's third proposal to include a prison diversion proposal represents the most far-reaching action it took on the corrections budget.

Popularly known as TIP (Treatment Instead of Prison), the proposal would create a grant program to enable counties to establish community-based alcohol and other drug abuse treatment programs. The provision is identical to legislation introduced earlier this year by Sen. Carol Roessler and Rep. Garey Bies and it represents the culmination of years of advocacy by concerned citizens and interfaith groups.

Using a system of graduated sanctions and incentives, the holistic treatment given to non-violent drug and alcohol abusers outside of prison would include substance abuse and mental health services, education and training, family reunification, and help finding employment and housing.

As encouraging as these budget proposals are, they are only a start. First, they must be approved by the governor. Even more important, their success depends on the willingness of Wisconsin's citizens to volunteer their time and effort in even greater numbers so that men and women otherwise destined for prison may find supportive communities in which to turn their lives around.

Barbara Sella is the associate director of education and social concerns at the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

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The miracles of growth:
From babies to mature old age

photo of Audrey Mettel Fixmer
Grand Mom 

Mettel Fixmer 

My daughter, Elizabeth, planted some pole beans last week around a teepee-like structure of sticks in our garden.

As vegetable lovers we choose to train our beans to climb up poles. It's the only way we can possibly squeeze in all the varieties we want in our limited space.

Every day now, one or all three of us can be heard squealing with delight at the rapid growth of the humble little bean. Otherwise we are going about our gardens celebrating each rose and lily and shrubs bursting into color with bright peonies.

What is there about growth and new life that so touches our hearts and sets our souls to singing?

New life

This spring we welcomed a new grandchild, Gregory, into our family. He and his parents, John and Janine, live in Seattle, and although we haven't met him personally as yet, we are thrilling over each new photo that appears on our computer screens, from the first one sent by the hospital when he was just one hour old to the one that appeared yesterday of Gregory at three months, wearing a funny cap and looking for all the world like someone told him to smile for Grandma.

I have one favorite shot of him covering my computer screen when it is at rest. When I tear myself away from the garden long enough to write or when I awake groggy and tired and stumble in to check my e-mails, there is that bright, smiling face to greet me. And I say, "Good morning, Gregory!" and whisper a prayer that God will let him grow into a fine young man.

Growing up

All the world delights in growth. What is the first thing your relatives said to you when you stepped in to your annual family gatherings? "My, how you've grown!"

Never mind that you were particularly decked out in your finest clothing or had a fresh new hairstyle. It was your growth that got rave reviews, something you had very little to do with.

In my opinion, this is why we senior citizens need to be around children and gardens as much as possible. What fun is it to watch the growth on our own bodies?

We grow humps on our backs, bigger bellies, liver spots, and bald spots. We grow knobs on our fingers, corns on our toes, and warts on our faces. I dare my relatives to comment on those!

On the other hand, as long as we aren't growing tumors, we are happy, because we want to go on living, lumps and all.

Time to reflect

We seniors are growing in good ways, too. When we tend our gardens, when we care for our grandchildren, we are delighting in these acts because we recognize that God is allowing us to share in His creative process.

We are not only witnesses to but participants in the miracles of life and growth. And so we are growing in wisdom.

Senior citizens are also growing spiritually. We have more time to develop our relationship with God. We talk to him more in prayer.

We have a little more time in solitude and reflection. We may read the Bible more or do other spiritual readings or join a study club at church.

Did you ever think that maybe that's why God, in His wisdom, has allowed the slow deterioration of our bodies to happen? It forces us to be less physical and more reflective.

Inner joy

He is telling us, "Give me more of your time and I will bring you an inner joy that surpasses any physical pain. You won't even notice the corns and lumps. And I will rejoice in your beauty!"

You see? Growing old is growing, too. And all growing is beautiful to behold.

"Grandmom" likes hearing from other senior citizens who enjoy aging -- contact information.

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