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Musings: A Visit to Leavenworth Prison Brings Hope to Anyone Ever Downtrodden

Every year for the last five years I have spoken at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary (LFP) in Kansas. It is the oldest and largest Federal prison in the United States. Built in 1903 on 22.8 acres, its structure is a huge daunting edifice that was designed to intimidate. I say that it does.

This year I was also invited to speak soon after my LFP presentation at the Petersburg Federal Penitentiary in Virginia. These federal institutions house some of the most “hardened” criminals, many who have served long sentences – some over 30 years.

Speaking at these venues is a very moving and transformational experience.


Both penitentiaries and a number of other Federal prisons have a faith-based program called Life Connections Program (LCP). This voluntary 18-month program is offered to inmates who have a parole date in the ensuing three years.

At Leavenworth I speak in the front end of the program, which is run by my now good friend Chaplin Dr. Kendall Hughes. He always tells me, “I like the inmates to hear your story and your work with offenders in the front end of the program because after you speak they pay attention to the rest of the curriculum.” The program is a well-planned spiritual program. All the inmates who are part of this program are supported by their respective spiritual advisers. Denominations include Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhist, New Thought and others. No one is left out. All of the supporting clerics typically partake in my presentation.

I essentially teach a three-part process that imparts critical knowledge and gives them hope of leading a productive life, contributing to the good of our society.

I’m done committing crimes.
His message helped me cross the threshold that was holding me back on forgiveness  ~ R.B.

The first part of the presentation is designed to viscerally explain the devastating impact of crime on violence. Most of these are grown men who often shed many tears. Sometimes we don’t get how painful violence is until it crosses our path. But now that I do REALLY get the impact, I would never in my life be violent to another human being. My goal is to have all of the inmates and their supporting clerics to also get it! Once we all get how very painful violence is – how it scars the soul forever – we will choose to live a nonviolent life.

Secondly, I give them the tools to redeem themselves. It is four-part formula.

  1. Take responsibility for your actions. The tendency for most offenders is to blame someone else. Part of the reason is because of their earlier victimization. In the 19 years I have been doing this work, I have yet to meet an offender who was NOT a victim. While I do create a deep level of empathy for their earlier victimization in my seminars, I make it clear that does not mean they get off the hook. They still pulled the trigger or perpetrated violence, and therefore must take responsibility for these actions!
  2. Ask forgiveness of the people you have harmed. It is not important that that forgiveness is granted, but it is important they make a meaningful and sincere request. I have in the past reached out on behalf of the offenders to their victims and facilitated a dialogue.
  3. Now that you have done the right thing, forgive yourself.
  4. Redeem yourself. This means to perform no more of the behavior involving crime, violence, drugs, guns and mayhem. They are to change their behavior forever and go out into the community and make sure no other young person follows in their former footsteps. Essentially they are to give back to the community that they robbed, realizing the more they do this redemptive work, the easier it will be for them to forgive themselves.
  5. Lastly, I teach them how to meditate, which promotes healing if they are able to create a regular daily practice designed to forgive themselves. For those interested there is a free download on my website of a guided meditation on forgiveness (Link HERE).

What results from this work are inmates – once stuck in guilt, blame, revenge and violence – free to start over on a path of contribution to their communities.

Who would have thought that in our darkened and dreary prisons there are resources that can create a better society? As I wrote in my first book From Murder to Forgiveness, “I believe that every human is the repository of unique gifts. With few exceptions, despite criminals’ bad acts, something of value is buried within them. As with the mining of precious metals, it might require a lot of effort to find it, dig it out, get it to the surface, separate it from the dross, polish it and reveal its value. But each of us has something to offer that’s ours alone, not duplicated in anyone else. The more we mine all our resources and allow them to contribute to the community, the richer our lives will be. I will never be comfortable with the idea of slamming doors shut forever. I can never be comfortable cutting myself off from the chance that people might have something rare and valuable to give me – even if they once made a terrible mistake.”

Does this sort of approach work? Yes – you may be surprised that the recidivism rate in our prisons runs very high – approximately 66 percent according the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The recidivism rate of the graduates from the LCP runs under 15 percent. That means that 85 percent of the graduates do not end up back in prison. But more importantly, they are now doing good work in their communities to better society. They are atoning! They are busy. They are passionately pursuing avenues to help other young members in our society to veer from a life of crime and violence. In so doing their lives take a new purpose and meaning. Through this work they are able to heal and spread the good word.

At the Tariq Khamisa Foundation ( we have several ex-offenders who act as panelists in our school programs. All have powerful stories and are now fully committed to teach youth to NOT follow in their footsteps! Often these presenters have more impact than others who had not led a life of crime, drugs and violence. Their negative experiences, in many ways, make them experts.

I have learned much from my work in prisons. It is very difficult to change behaviors. Just look at your own behaviors and the behaviors of your loved ones and understand how difficult this is. But I have learned that it is possible, as 85 percent of the graduates in LCP do exactly that. I believe when we do wrong it can be a festering wound in our hearts, and we need absolution from those we have hurt in order to heal. In other words, the strong need for redemption provides the elixir to change behavior!

Often, I cry many tears as I depart the prison on my way to the airport. It is exhausting and emotional, but it is a happy and satisfied sort of tired.

Many Blessings,

Azim N. Khamisa

Azim Khamisa

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