"I try not to say that God is on my side, but I strive to be on God's side." - Tim Pawlenty
This is the tale of a bully who ruined Minnesota and tried to destroy me. Now, he stands ready to be named as Vice President running mate for the Republican candidate for President of the United States.
It happened during new employee training. I asked one-too-many questions about a new program coming to the Shakopee women's facility; the InnerChange Freedom Initiative.
InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) is a faith-based prison ministry founded by Chuck Colson.
If the name rings a bell (or, sets off an alarm) it is because Chuck Colson is a convicted felon; a Watergate conspirator who spent time in federal prison.
(See below for a brief overview of Colson's criminal history.)
Abusing Christianity, abusing vulnerable citizens - Colson's tax-funded "ministry"
I know Chuck Colson. I went to school with Chuck Colson.
After his release from prison, Colson applied to and was accepted by Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS).
I was a student at PTS when Colson arrived on the scene. I remember how he strutted through campus, surrounded by lackeys who schlepped his books so he was free to glad-hand at will.
Strutting was about all Colson did.
He never enrolled in classes - he didn't have to. He never intended to study with the rest of us and we all knew it.
Colson's time at PTS was a cynical, premeditated strategy to attract religious Republican funders.
Republican financiers played right into his hands. Within months of his admission to PTS, Colson disappeared, endowed with enough capital necessary to start his mega-million "Prison Fellowship ministry;" the tax exempt, tax guzzling, tax shelter Colson needed to launch the second half of his corrupt, ridiculously profitable and vacuous life.
|Chuck Colson - Strutting was all he did.|
The InnerFaith Freedom Initiative program is an outgrowth of Colson's tax-exemt Prison Fellowship mega-ministry.
Prior to George W. Bush's terms in office, Prison Fellowship was funded by individuals and conservative Christian congregations and denominations.
When President Bush lifted the curtain between church and state through the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, all that changed.
Chuck Colson started InnerFaith Freedom Initiative, began drawing down tax dollars and became filthy rich.
Your tax dollars - used to select special offenders - to provide special privileges - and to convert them to Christianity.
Conversion to Christianity is not, however, the mission of our state and federal prisons but to hold safe and separate the incarcerated felons of Minnesota.
Selecting specific felons for faith development is beyond the scope of any prison. Faith development is the goal of a church community, a faith-based system. Faith development is voluntary - and best conducted in trust-centered, faithful communities where free people make free choices.
Asking the Department of Corrections to do "faith development" is akin to asking a plumber to rewire your house.
When we teach Christian, church-centered values in religious settings we grow community. When we construct a Christian community in a state prison, we grow gangs of righteous offenders.
Pawlenty wanted IFI to grow in Minnesota. He especially wanted the program to expand to the women's prison at Shakopee - where I was Chaplain.
At Shakopee, the IFI program would be supervised by the chaplain; by me. And so it came to pass that I asked questions - lots of questions.
And Associate Commission, Eric Skon said the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program was a "done deal" at Shakopee women's prison. He said Governor Pawlenty wanted it, loved it and was bound to have it.
When I asked him if the governor understood the program had been outlawed in the Iowa prisons, Skon told me to shut up.
"He knows it's a can of worms," he said, "You need to shut up about this. It's going to happen."
Fighting for a Spot
As soon as the Shakopee offenders got wind of the upcoming IFI program, the competition began.
Women lined up to speak with me about getting into the program. Women learned of the special favors and demanded to be considered.
"This is not fair," one inmate complained, "How can they offer this to only a few people? Why can't the rest of us have the same opportunities?"
Indeed. Offenders admitted to the program receive a "coach" in the facility, a community (or gang) to protect you, and special tutoring.
When released from prison, IFI graduates get a job, housing and a mentor.
All off this in exchange for accepting You Know Who as your You Know What.
Who wouldn't want that?"
People who value their personal integrity, perhaps. People who don't believe in Jesus Christ, for starters.
The program is focused on a "Christ centered" life. Jews, Muslims, Agnostics and others who will never accept Jesus Christ as the son of God need not apply
The big lie
Colson and his friends disclaim the charge that their program uses tax dollars. They say the program is funded by voluntary contributions, nothing more. Religious individuals and congregations committed to prison ministry are their only support.
Colson is a liar.
Here's where his lies got him in trouble in Iowa.
The offenders in IFI are recruited from across the prison, and housed together in state buildings using state-funded utilities and infrastructure.
The IFI staff are paid salaries laundered from the fees charged to the state. IFI charges the state for their program - and then pays their staff with the revenue they receive from Minnesota. Your tax dollars at work.
In addition to hiring and paying their staff with tax dollars, the program uses Minnesota state employees as support staff. They use our phone lines, our paper, pencils, markers.
And finally - the IFI staff is supervised by Minnesota Correctional security staff. These are folks hired and trained by state professionals in state funded programs. Their work is to oversee the programs initiated by IFI - keeping their staff protected from offenders. Once again, tax dollars.
In spite of all this, Colson claims his program operates with private funds only.
A liar or a fool?
Imagine if Colson were right. Although we know him to be a criminal, a liar and a huckster, imagine a prison system where a program like IFI was not supported by your tax dollars; a program where any religious organization could construct its own program within the prison.
If Colson were telling the truth about IFI, Muslim religious professionals would be free to demand that Minnesota institute a comparable program for the many incarcerated Muslims of Minnesota. Roman Catholics, Methodists, Druids could all have special, specific programs for their believers.Imagine a prison system where all faith systems share in an equal, established residential program for their special group.
Imagine cell blocks at each prison, running independent of each other, each focused on teaching the practices of Jews, Sunni Muslims, Wiccans.
Imagine the infrastructure necessary to maintain each program; the security risk to the offenders and to the rest of us.
Lucky for us, we don't have to imagine such a fiasco. No - all we have to suffer is the IFI program.
And the Iowa courts found IFI unconstitutional in 2006.
That Was the Year That Was: How I got hurt by all this
In 2006, I was Chaplain at Shakopee. Remember - I was nervy enough to ask Minnesota leadership why the Minnesota Department of Corrections would want to get in bed with people like Colson and a program like IFI - so overtly illegal and unfair.
In 2006 Americans United For Separation of Church and State prevailed in Iowa and they would prevail anywhere else this ugly program attempted to draw down tax dollars.
If IFI were to begin at Shakopee, our prison would be the first to institute this illegal program in a women's facility. My question - - why would we do this?
When I began to dig into the funding background of IFI in Minnesota, the warden of Shakopee told me to "back off" or I would be fired.
According to the warden, associate commissioner Erik Skon, commissioner Joan Fabian - the Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty wanted me fired.
So important were the funders who support Colson's work.
My supervisor was program leader, Jim Verhoye. "We've never seen anything like this," Verhoye said, "from all across the organization. Never. For some reason, this is big stuff. So you have to take it underground. Keep it quiet, or it will be your job."
Of course, in the end, it was my "job." I was fired for speaking against this program.
But it was my "job" with a price tag.
Governments cannot fire employees for asking questions. Nor can they fire staff for attempting to protect citizens. The program I questioned is harmful; not only to the incarcerated women it assaults, but to all Minnesotans. When our constitutional rights erode, we all suffer.
And so I filed a law suit against them and in February of 2011. After five years of struggle, they agreed to settlement of close to a quarter-million dollars. Tax dollars.
I knew I was right to sue. I knew I was right to win.
What I did not know, however, was this; why would the Governor or Minnesota endorse an illegal prison program?
And when I questioned the program, why was I a threat? Was more at stake than presented itself?
What was the real reason for my firing?
As the years passed, I learned the answer.
God, Greed and the Governor
Other than his relationship with a certain group of evangelical Christians, Tim Pawlenty has no political base. Nor does he seem able to build upon his current status. He lacks the libertarian philosophy necessary to attract Tea Party conservatives and his flawed tax-reform positions are too bland for Republican fiscal conservatives.
The mother lode of Pawlenty support resides in Wooddale church; one of the wealthiest congregations in the nation.
Pawlenty is not a natural-born evangelical. He started out a poor, Catholic lad from working-class South St. Paul.
According to his autobiography, as his mother lay dying, Pawlenty promised her he would go to college. Apparently he never promised her he would be true and faithful to Roman Catholicism.
Since his 1987 marriage, Pawlenty has been a member of the mega church dominating the skyline of Eden Prairie, Minn.
Wooddale is the national evangelical epicenter of wealthy, conservative, right-wing politics.
The senior minister of Wooddale is Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He followed Ted Haggard who, in 2006 was discovered regularly visiting a male prostitute who also provided him with methamphetamine.
Haggard admitted his wrongdoing and resigned. In January 2009, Haggard admitted to a second homosexual relationship with a male church member on CNN-TV and other national media, and when asked, would not directly answer a question about his other possible homosexual relationships. Ted Haggard has recently started a new church.
The National Association of Evangelicals has an interesting tagline; "cooperation without compromise."
Wooddale Church serves as the central office for the association. As Chaplain, I worked with dozens of volunteers from Wooddale; congregants who frequently asked if they could invite the chair of the Republican party to participate in prison programs.
When I asked that they also invite the chair of the Democratic party, one of them said, "Our pastor tells us there's no such thing as a Christian democrat."
No. Wooddale is in the business of supporting Republican Christians for public office. If you don't believe me, phone and ask. I did.
I phoned Wooddale Church several weeks after the prison fired me. I asked if I could speak to someone who could tell me about the "culture" of the place.
The woman who took my call was eager to tell me that Mary and Tim Pawlenty were members; that Joan Fabian, the Commissioner for the Department of Corrections was intimately involved in the prison ministry, and that the church was proud to be anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-gun and anti-immigrant.
"We believe," she said, "that one party has the vision. We do all we can to advance that - all we can," she giggled, "without losing our tax status."
I laughed with her and hung up. I had my answer.
Pawlenty and his commissioners fired me because they were afraid I would offend the evangelical religious right. Pawlenty was afraid to disaffect the volunteers from Wooddale Church. He was afraid of questions, afraid where they lead.
Pawlenty and Colson. Cut from the same cloth.
Lord, have mercy.
**** A short study of a vacuous man ***
Charles Wendell Colson was born in Boston in October, 1931. After graduating from Brown University Colson joined the U.S. Marine Corps (1953-55). This was followed by the post of Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1955–56).
Colson was a member of the Republican Party and in 1956 he became Administration Assistant to Senator Leverett Saltonstall. In 1961 Colson became a partner in the Gadsby and Hannah Law Firm.
In 1969 Colson was appointed to the White House staff as Counsel to President Richard Nixon. Colson also began involved in the activities of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). On 20th March, 1971, at a meeting of CREEP it was agreed to spend $250,000 "intelligence gathering" operation against the Democratic Party.
Colson and John Ehrlichman appointed E. Howard Hunt as a member of the White House Special Investigations Unit, the group who placed electronic devices in the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. On 3rd July, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord were caught by the police as they broke into the Watergate.
The phone number of E.Howard Hunt was found in address books of the burglars. The trial of Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker, James W. McCord, E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy began in Washington in January, 1973. All the men refused to explain who paid them to take part in the break-in. As a result they all received long prison sentences.
At that time, Colson began cooperating with federal prosecutors. In 1974, he entered a plea of guilty to Watergate-related charges. He also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the Daniel Ellsberg case. He was given a one-to-three year sentence. However, he only served seven months at Alabama's Maxwell Prison.
In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, receiving tax dollars to visit offenders. In 1995, in cooperation with George W. Bush, Colson founded IFI with tax dollars and private funding.
In 2006 the program was found unconstitutional in Iowa.