Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

October 11, 2006:

Hugh MacMillan ’64

Program rebuilds prisoners’ lives

Hugh MacMillan ’64

In the program Hugh MacMillan ’64 helped to found, prisoners learn to control anger, improve their family relationships, and work on job skills.

Working with the Florida Department of Corrections in the 1990s, Hugh MacMillan ’64 saw too many prisoners lose any sense of hope in their lives. When he learned about Kairos Prison Ministry, a weekend spiritual retreat for inmates led by a team of community volunteers, he wondered whether it would be possible to extend the length of the retreat into a residential self-help program where the focus was less on evangelism and more on practical issues such as family and employment. “Most of the people in prison would do almost anything to fix their broken lives,” says MacMillan.

To help inmates do just that, in 1999 MacMillan helped create Horizon Communities in Prisons (www.horizoncommunities.org), a nonprofit interfaith prison ministry that brings volunteers from the local community into prisons to teach inmates to manage their anger, resolve conflicts, maintain and improve their family relations, and hone job skills. Prisoners volunteer to live for one year in a special dorm where both the physical layout and the schedule of activities help to create a community that prepares them to live responsibly with others in mutual trust and respect. Essentially, they learn how “to live on the outside,” says MacMillan, who served as chairman of Horizon’s board for three years. Horizon began as a pilot program at Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach, Fla., and has since brought its program to Wakulla Correctional Institution near Tallahassee, Fla., and to prisons in Texas, Ohio, and Oklahoma.

Today MacMillan works part-time for Horizon, building the volunteer base and developing programs for the Wakulla facility, where the Horizon faith-based approach has been applied to the entire 1,800-bed prison as a “faith-and character-based institution” (www.wakullacivolunteers.org). MacMillan and his wife, Carol, own a Tallahassee public-interest government relations and marketing business, MacMillan Co. A religion major at Princeton with a lifelong interest in justice and politics, MacMillan says he is confident that many states will follow the path taken in Florida.

Of the approximately 1,000 Horizon participants to date (not including the Wakulla facility), about 30 percent have been released and 30 percent were to be released in 2006. Studies show that, on average, graduates of the program have far fewer disciplinary incidents within prisons, pay significantly greater portions of their child support once released, and stay out of jail. MacMillan adds that, with time, the program should save tax dollars — with reduced recidivism, more former inmates would be functioning in society rather than being supported in prison.

“The present prison system treats every inmate as hard to help and dangerous,” says MacMillan. But he doesn’t see most prisoners that way. In Horizon dorms, he says, “people learn how to talk and listen to each other,” and they learn the skills to help them rebuild their lives.P

By Agatha E. Gilmore ’04

Agatha E. Gilmore ’04 is a writer in Chicago.