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Islamic and Christian Conversion in Prison

November 26, 2014

My latest article Religious Conversion in Prison: Prosocial V. Antisocial Identities appears in the International Journal of Education and Social Science, Research Institute for Progression of Knowledge.

In this article “Prisoner transformation through religious conversion is a varied pathway where the reasons for seeking change, for selecting religion as a means of change, the selection of a helper, the religious group affiliated with and the effect of social, cultural and political factors create subtle distinctions in how one experiences conversion or not and if so, how transformation develops and proceeds toward anti- or pro-social outcomes.  Does this tell us anything that we may later quantify and statistically base predictions upon? In responding to this question there are seven points worthy of consideration.

First, religious conversion and transformation in identity is a “much nuanced pathway”.

Second, what is found in both religions is that there are many “forks in the road” during the conversion process and transforming identities. Forks were evidenced in both the inclusivist and exclusivist religious community identity and in the incorporationist and rejectionist worldview identity.

Third, the narratives evidenced that religion is just one alternative for gaining knowledge of self. Other alternatives are education, counseling, and gangs.

Fourth, in comparing Christian and Islamic participants it emerged that not all of either faith who experience religious conversion and become inclusivist or exclusivist and in both types there are both incorporationists and rejectionists. Of the 22 participants 2 coding exclusive and 2 coding inclusive were rejecting of society. Moreover of those coding both exclusive and rejecting one was Christian and one was Islamic. Most participants were cooperative toward larger society whether inclusive or exclusive in religious identity.

Fifth, in each religion no definitive process of radicalization emerged although one participant professing Islam and that coded exclusive/rejecting spoke of hate of white people and racism. And, in another case a professing Christian that coded exclusive/rejecting spoke of leading people in violent opposition to government.

Sixth, the four participants coded rejectionist used particular words related to specific concepts that disassociated and sanctified their anti-social behavior even in light of their profession of religion and spirituality.

Seventh, descriptive words and phrases may be operationalized in relation to concepts and scales created to quantify findings in future studies.

Policy Implications for Corrections and Directions for Research

This research establishes a model study for giving prisoners a voice in their transformation, it offers guidelines for study of religious conversion in prison, provides assistance to the correctional system and supports the professional and volunteer chaplaincy as part of an overall prison treatment program designed to help individuals seeking to change their lives pro-socially to do so, to desist from crime and thereby reduce their chances of returning to prison. Findings support a conclusion that isolating one religion as a radicalizing source unduly burdens free practice of religion and fails to recognize other religions have similar tendencies. As noted by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (2008) restrictions on any non-Christian religion must not result in having their “free exercise” rights to practice religion unduly burdened by the state without a compelling interest.

Prison administrators, chaplains, psychologists, counselors are better equipped to understand how including religion or spirituality into correctional treatment assists desistance (stopping crime) and thereby helps prisoners help themselves not return to prison. It promotes a better understanding of how involving the felon in an active role will promote possible transformation to a pro-social member of society (Norcross & Wampold, 2010; Worthington, Hook, Davis, & McDaniel, 2010).

Importantly, the findings support the need for an interdisciplinary approach where treatment professionals and institutional administrators work holistically with religious services as part of an overall treatment program.  Simultaneously it speaks to the need for trained volunteers for all religious faiths served by the prison chaplaincy programs. It therefore provides support and direction for prison chaplaincy and volunteer programs and enhances chaplaincy as a correctional profession.

Religion, Conversion and Identity

November 6, 2015
Dr. Malcolm L. Rigsby, Ph.D, JD.

This is my interview by Bro. Leonard, host of Prison Focus an internationally heard program carried by KPOO radio, San Francisco.  Date November 5, 2015.

Religion in Society: Conversion and Identity

November 5, 2015
Associate Professor of Sociology and Coordinator of Criminal Justice, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas

I was so honored today to be interviewed by Bro Leonard host of the International radio program Prison Focus on KPOO San Francisco. This is the first of three anticipated interviews. Other segments will evaluate prisoner narratives on conversion and transformation of identity toward a pro-social model followed by a discussion of how we may better equip those who seek to transform their lives in a pro-social way to desist from crime and maximize their likelihood of successful reentry to and reintegration with society as citizens.

Ghost Town: Stories From Hebron

October 23, 2015

Ghost Town: Stories from Hebron
by Malcolm L. Rigsby

Personally meaningful and life focusing!

Subject: Accounts of the stories from Hebron as a result of occupation by Israel.

Year: 2015

Ghost Town is an alarming and stark examination of reality in being imprisoned in one’s own homeland!

                                    ~ Malcolm L. Rigsby

The past 10 years have seen an increasing number of documentaries on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  Many of these films have been objective recounts of each side and others have been biased.  Some films have focused on the historical contexts that may have created the conflict that seems to ebb and wane then resurface in hate and rage while other films focus on religious and politicalized ideologies that propel conflict.  Ellie Bernstein has created a masterpiece in Ghost Town.  She holistically interweaves history and current day politics and culture with deeply moving and personal narratives.  She is both passionate as well as objective in this film that focuses on the Palestinian side of the region’s conflict.  The film begins with the statement “never a land without people nor a people without a land.”  What better setting for a land that now is increasingly “ghost-like” for its indigenous inhabitants; the Palestinian.  The land mass known as Palestine since the Roman conquest now contains the states of Palestine and Israel.  Israel, as defined by its borders established by the Six Day War as well as Palestine, also known as the West Bank and Gaza, has been inhabited by indigenous peoples throughout recorded history.  Against this backdrop, within this land are many ghost towns.  Hebron is one such example where in the midst of this populated city lies a virtual wasteland devoid of Palestinian inhabitants and human enterprise.  It is in these sections of Hebron and other locations that Palestinian ghost towns have been created by the removal laws of the Israeli state and its support of a numerically few settlers who wield great power over the numerically larger Palestinian population.

Narrated by Martin Sheen, the film lays out a factually objective history of the land of Palestine.  This provides us with the knowledge of the effects of the creation of the state of Israel upon the occupation of the region and the demise of the Palestinian people.  Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territory that it occupies.”  In spite of numerous UN resolutions and language of Article 49 Israel has aggressively sought to expand its 1948 borders and occupy the land of Palestine.

Ghost Town truly is both a magnetic and informative film.  A focal point in this film surrounds the historical division of Hebron by Israel into areas H-1 and H-2.  The state’s creation of these areas serve a foundation for “self-legitimizing” much violence committed by the Israeli soldiers and settlers against local Palestinians.  This violence perpetrated against local Palestinian residents of Hebron is exemplified in many accounts described in this film.  One resonating case is the murder of Frial-Fayez.  Fayez’ death is not an isolated case.  Attempts by survivors and those injured by IDF soldiers are unable to file law suits for damages due to Israeli law.  In essence the brute power of the occupier serves to substantiate the military rule that denies the Palestinian residents the basic human need for democratic Due Process that so many citizens of other nations and the Israeli non-Arab population enjoy.

Increasingly the Palestinian residents of Hebron have been fenced off from their properties and forbidden to enter or conduct business in sections of the city.  The result is a city of ghostlike storefronts, memories, and lost dreams.

Ellie Bernstein provides a deeply meaningful experience for each viewer.  She brings together her many personal travels of the lands of Palestine and Israel into context as she explores personal accounts, third party intervenors perspectives, and individuals and private organizations who are attempting to bring change.  The film clearly sets the backdrop in an interspersed review of the concise history of the region, the conflict, and the people.  Their accounts will resonate in your mind as you consider the facts and the circumstances currently faced in the daily lives of people living in modern day Palestine and in particular the city of Hebron.

Ghost Town: Stories from Hebron is starkly shot with excellent editing.  The personal accounts echo in a way that enhance and assist the viewer to move right into the setting.  The film includes a study guide and includes an interview with Noam Chomsky.  For more preliminary information watch the film Trailer.  The website indicates that it provides a complimentary Guidebook.  Although no active guidebook link was located the site does provide contact information.  To make institutional or personal purchases visit MiddleEastDocs.

Review by: Malcolm L. Rigsby, J.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Criminal Justice. Department of Sociology Human Services and Criminal Justice, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas,

Produced By: Ophelias Media Productions.

Directed by: Ellie Bernstein

Distributed By: Rhizome Intermedia

Format: DVD, English

Running Time: 85 minutes

Color/B&W: Color

Rating: Highly Recommended.

Audience Level: Jr. High, High School, College and General Adult.


Tags: Palestine, occupation, Hebron, settlers, Jewish settlers, Israel.

A Morning on the Isle of Rhodos

July 4, 2015

If I were on the Isle of Rhodos (Rhodes Island) today I believe that I’d arise at sunrise (well before the locals who normally don’t start stirring before 10 a.m.). I would pack my backpack with water, some bread, cheese, olives, a tomato and some nice seasonal fruit. Importantly I would pack my air up pillow and a nice cotton throw. Then I’d head upon top of the Old City wall and take 3-4 hours to walk it. I would walk and breathe in the local odors of breakfast cooking and listen to the awaking rustlings of life as nighttime peace and nocturnal sounds give way to the activity of day. Somewhere along the way at a strategic point on the wall I’d stop, spread my nice soft throw, air up my pillow and unpack my lunch and enjoy time with God.

Criticism and the Rhetoric of Self-pity

July 3, 2015

I encounter people all the time who don’t like my opinions, beliefs, values, behavior, religiosity and/ or other ways I conduct my life. If I allowed myself to claim victimization in an effort to create pity for myself I’d soon be paranoid. :). I’d soon be claiming that I was a victim of some sort of ‘anti-something’ geared at a perceived class.

There is nothing necessarily bad about some one challenging your ways or beliefs; this is how society orders itself and regulates change. Just my opinion, but people need to stop feeling so sensitive about criticism. Accepting challenges of life leads to growth and self worth. Crying victimization each time challenges are presented leads to stagnation and self pity. In my opinion: ‘Just Get Over It’.

Thoughts on American Sociality

June 29, 2015

I believe we have much uncertainty in America today. Not discounting the fact that uncertainty is always a factor of life. I recall the uncertainty of the. 60s & 70s. Movements then were daily variables of life, Vietnam, Black Power, Brown Berets, Native American and the beginnings of the Gay movement that later coupled and grew into LGBT. Socialism was on the scene then and in my dad’s young adulthood of the 1930s there was also the Nazi movement in America. Guthrie’s music spun from this era. But, today there is lacking any grounding. Then there was a fair amount of trust in our government. Whether the 30s or 60s even the ones that wanted to change society trusted that basic needs to sustain bare life would be protected by government. Maybe I am incorrect, but I see that basic trust waning quickly in our society today.

I believe there is a growing segment of society today that not only seeks the change that each generation seeks, but moreover unlike past times fail to believe our govt can or even wants to provide protection to citizens. Rather I believe they perceive the government overwhelmingly using and manipulating citizenry and even illegal immigrants and minority groups for the advance of the elite few that dictate the majority rule. This leaves growing numbers of our society either mystified into believing the powers that be or on the other hand cognizant of the manipulation and merely surviving in a state of anomie. Strain in our society is distorting government purpose, religiosity, and social relationships.

Letters From Death Row: Faith Behind Bars

June 25, 2015

Here is the link to an article in the #TexasObserver. In this article UK and US free lancer Alex Hannaford interviews me. #prisonReligion


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