Inmates hope for prison restoration


INMATES GET A SAY — Hope College hosts restorative jus-
tice discussion organized by inmates. (Hope College)

The Saint Benedict Institute is hosting “Hope for Restoration: Radical Hospitality and Prison Reform,” a day-long conference on restorative justice, on Saturday, March 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Maas Center at Hope College.

The public will be able to do something that the event’s organizers cannot: attend. The conference was conceived and organized by inmates from the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, who will have a chance to watch recordings of the proceedings later.

The conference’s keynote speakers will be Ted Lewis of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota; Kristen Deede Johnson, associate professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary; and Eric Boldiszar, Handlon inmate and Calvin Prison Initiative student, through a pre-recorded presentation.

Other speakers and panelists include Bishop David J. Walkowiak, Diocese of Grand Rapids; Rep. David LaGrand, state representative for Grand Rapids; Rep. Joe Haveman, former state representative for Holland; Troy Rienstra of Network for Real Change; Warden DeWayne Burton of Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility; Tricia Worrell, director of prison and jail ministry, Diocese of Grand Rapids; and Julie Bylsma and Todd Cioffi of Calvin Prison Initiative.

In addition to the Saint Benedict Institute, the conference is being presented in partnership with Hope College, Calvin College, Calvin Seminary, the Calvin Prison Initiative and the Corpus Christi Foundation. The Calvin Prison Initiative is a partnership between Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary that provides a Christian liberal arts education to inmates at Handlon.

A total of 40 inmates are participating in the initiative, which leads to a Bachelor of Arts degree in ministry leadership.

As outlined in the conference program, developed by the prisoners, “Restorative justice seeks to encourage peace within communities by healing the wounds of injustice through effective communication and accountability and offering hope for restoration.” The program continues that restorative justice practices “empower victims and promote healing through dialogue” and “humanize victims to their offenders, often leading to empathy and remorse in offenders.”

In addition, the program explains, “A community’s radical hospitality promotes peace, empowers its citizens who are victims of crime, and contributes to the transformation of its incarcerated citizens.”

The conference developed after Boldiszar connected with Dr. Jared Ortiz of the Hope religion faculty, who is executive director of the Saint Benedict Institute.

“He read an interview with me in the FAITH Grand Rapids magazine a few years ago,” Ortiz said. “He invited me to the prison to speak to his restorative justice reading group. I did and was very blessed by the exchange. We kept up a correspondence.”

“One thing led to another, and Eric asked if the Saint Benedict Institute would be willing to host a conference on restorative justice. I agreed on two conditions: the inmates planned it, and Eric gave the opening talk,” Ortiz said. “He agreed and the inmates planned the whole thing: they chose the title, the topics, the speakers. They wrote to all the speakers to invite them.”

The Saint Benedict Institute is a ministry of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Holland. It seeks to promote and nurture intellectual work done from the heart of the Catholic Church, to aid in the formation of intellectually and spiritually mature Christians, Hope College and the wider community. Admission to the conference is free. For more information or to register, visit

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