Largest US Prison Ministry Announces Charles Colson Hope Awards Recipients on 40th Anniversary

Honorees Include Sitting U.S. Senator, Legendary Prison Warden, Founder of Angel Tree, Former Prisoner-Turned-Prison Chaplain and Longtime Ministry Supporters 

Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, former prisoners and their families, announced today by video the inaugural recipients of the Charles Colson Hope Awards, which will annually recognize people who have faithfully and courageously worked to restore those affected by crime and incarceration. Colson, the late former special counsel to President Richard Nixon whose crimes related to the Watergate scandal resulted in a prison sentence, became a Christian shortly before serving his sentence and went on to found Prison Fellowship 40 years ago today.

“I am privileged to find myself leading the organization that Chuck Colson founded 40 years ago today. Chuck was at ease equally with presidents and prisoners, and had a unique talent to engage wardens and pastors, lay people and legislators,” said James Ackerman, the new president and chief executive officer of Prison Fellowship. “No matter the audience or the occasion, he remained a passionate advocate for incarcerated people and their families, and today we’re pleased to announce the first recipients of these awards that bear his name.”

“Our extended family is delighted that Prison Fellowship is honoring these faithful people for continuing my father’s legacy of bringing hope and restoration to those affected by crime and incarceration,” said Christian Colson, son of Charles Colson and a Prison Fellowship board member. “Their fruitful lives are a reminder that our father’s impact on prison ministry, prison culture and justice reform has been broad and lasting.”

The 2016 recipients of the Charles Colson Hope Awards, people who demonstrate characteristics for which Colson was admired, are:

  • Sen. John Cornyn, recipient of the Advocate of Hope award, which honors a person with a record of faithful and winsome advocacy for restorative criminal justice reform

    Cornyn is recognized for his leadership, blazing a trail toward a future criminal justice system that upholds the restorative principles of proportional punishment, constructive prison culture, second chances and safer communities. From his earlier work as a judge to his accomplishments as attorney general of Texas, Cornyn has remained a diligent, compassionate advocate for justice. Now in the U.S. Senate, he sponsored the CORRECTIONS Act, which became Title II of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support in 2015. Cornyn, who was nominated for this award by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, continues to push for the legislation to come to the Senate floor for a vote.
  • Burl Cain, recipient of the Servant of Hope award, which honors a person who has brought the message of hope, redemption and restoration into correctional environments

    The legendary former warden of Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary, Cain’s 30 years of leadership helped transform the prison from one of the bloodiest and most notorious in the country to an enduring culture of dignity and mutual respect. Cain is often tapped to share his philosophy of constructive prison culture, and he has consistently promoted the idea that faith changes lives, even in prison—especially in prison. Reginald Wilkinson, a past president of both the American Correctional Association and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, nominated Cain because of the servant leadership he demonstrated in making renewal and second chances possible behind prison walls.
  • Mary Kay Beard, posthumous recipient of the Restorer of Hope award, which honors a person who, with sustained compassion for the terrible weight borne by the families of the incarcerated, comes alongside them to help carry their burden, share God’s love and offer hope for restoration

    A former bank robber, Beard joined the staff of Prison Fellowship as the director for her home state of Alabama after her own release from prison. Recalling the mothers she met during her incarceration who carefully saved items like soap and socks in order to have something to give their children during Christmas visits, Beard founded Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program in 1982. Through the only nationwide, year-round program that reaches out exclusively to children who have a parent in prison, Prison Fellowship has partnered with thousands of local churches in 50 states to deliver more than 10 million Christmas gifts to prisoners’ children. Chuck Colson’s family nominated Beard, who died earlier this year.
  • Danny Croce, recipient of the Champion of Hope award, which honors a person whose life has been directly impacted by incarceration—either as a former prisoner or as the child of an incarcerated parent—and who has overcome obstacles and opposition to realize his or her God-given potential

    While incarcerated in Massachusetts’ Plymouth County Jail in 1985, Croce received a Bible and was transformed by the power of the gospel. He overcame addiction and, when released, joined a Bible-believing church and grew stronger in his faith. Croce applied for and received Wheaton College’s Charles Colson Scholarship for former prisoners, graduating with a degree in theology in 1995. Croce eventually ended up back in prison—this time as the chaplain at Plymouth County Jail. He is now the head of New Hope Correctional Ministry, providing comprehensive nondenominational chaplain services to correctional facility residents, staff, public officials and the surrounding community. Before his death, Colson asked Croce if he would speak at his eventual memorial service, a privilege that Croce undertook at the National Cathedral in 2012. Colson’s widow, Patty, nominated Croce, who today is making a full-circle contribution by helping others affected by crime and incarceration.
  • David and Charlotte Cauwels, recipients of the Legacy of Hope award, which honors a person, family or foundation that has invested faithfully and generously in the restoration of those affected by crime and incarceration, thus enabling Prison Fellowship to make significant advancements in its mission

    Since the ministry’s early days, the Cauwelses have invested not only financial resources, but also countless hours of their time. They have coordinated teaching and discipleship ministries in prisons, and recruited, trained and equipped volunteers to reach their greatest potential in service. David has visited prisons weekly for some 40 years and served more than 31 years on the Prison Fellowship board of directors. Charles Colson often referred to David as his closest confidant and advisor. Recently, the Cauwelses helped establish a new in-prison seminary in their home state of New Mexico, and their son, Paul, has followed in his parents’ footsteps and engaged in the ministry, including currently serving on the board of directors. Tammy Everard, a longtime member of Prison Fellowship’s staff, nominated the Cauwelses.


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Prison Fellowship is the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, former prisoners and their families, and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform.