I know not everyone believes in God. But those who do say He works in mysterious ways. In my case, He went to a lot of trouble to get my attention.

I was sitting at Shanahan’s, enjoying my $5 burger, while watching the NBA. The guy next to me said he had been a high school basketball coach. I peppered him with questions. Near the end, he told me he was a Catholic priest at a church in Lawndale. I know several religious leaders in that community and it turned out we had some mutual friends. 

When I mentioned one in particular, he recalled the man had assisted Fr. Dismas Clark in his ministry. Fr. Clark was a Jesuit priest in Chicago who pioneered prison ministry and programs for ex-offenders. He chose the name “Dismas” for the “good thief” who recognized Christ’s innocence as they both hung on their respective crosses. I told my acquaintance there was a terrific movie about Fr. Clark called The Hoodlum Priest.

When I got home, this 1961 black-and-white classic was just starting on TCM. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, but I immediately became engrossed in the gritty film. I was struck by its stark realism and convincing performances. 

The next morning, I received an email from a friend of mine who had been released from prison months ago. He said he needed my help. (Like I said, God went to a lot of trouble on this one.) I went to my friend’s house and learned he had been stiffed by his last employer. There wasn’t much hope of recovering his money but the bigger problem was that he needed something better than these low-paying temporary jobs.

I called my friend who assisted Fr. Clark and he offered to help. Then I called the leader of Living Word’s Prison Ministry, Pastor James Glaspie. Pastor Glaspie was on board right away and proposed a meeting with my friend.

The three of us met at Andrea’s. Pastor Glaspie drove my friend to his office at North and Ridgeland avenues. It turned out my friend had done three stretches in prison, totaling 10 years, partly because it was almost impossible for him to find employment.

The Living Word staff put together a resume for him and scheduled an interview. They took my friend to the interview and he was admitted into the company’s training program. The next day, Pastor Glaspie called to say the man would be starting his new job shortly.

I was so happy for my friend and I thought of so many ex-offenders who could use the same help. Our criminal justice system is stacked against them. As Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown pointed out, “We punish people for being locked up.” 

Fixing our broken system is one of the few issues conservatives and liberals agree on. The statistics are numbing. We now have 2.2 million Americans locked up. By far the most of any developed nation. Republicans and Democrats both decry the costs in terms of dollars and human suffering.

In the meantime, I encourage more ex-offenders to take advantage of Living Word’s ministry. They get results. Oh, and you don’t have to watch a black-and-white movie to understand the problems of our prisons. Comedian Jeff Ross does a roast of prisoners on Comedy Central that combines big laughs with heartbreaking facts. 

Fr. Dismas Clark would have loved it. 

 John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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