John R. Horton, 32°

The principles of Freemasonry can help us reclaim all but the most reprobate of criminals for they, too, are part of our family of man.

For the past 20 years as a probation and parole agent in rural Wyoming, I have been working with criminals, alcoholics, and drug addicts—the outcasts of the family of man. A few of these people are really dangerous and need to be separated from society, but most of them don’t want to be criminals, alcoholics, or addicts. In addition to leading the world in the consumption of illegal drugs, America now leads the world in the number of our family members we lock up. We love to send our troublemakers away, place them in concrete and steel cages, out of sight and out of mind.

Unfortunately, this system is not working for a number of reasons. Almost all prisoners come back home, some very soon, others much later. But what good have they learned being locked up in an artificial world with the most negative, most antisocial peers we can find as neighbors and roommates? We have lived with the self-destructive myth that "nothing works" in corrections. We have lived with empty political promises that locking up more of our brothers and sisters will make a safer world. Actually, there are many things that work or, at least, help. Treatment for drug and alcohol abuse works rather well. It does not work every time, and it may not work the first time. But every one of the hundreds of people I have seen go to treatment for alcohol or drug abuse benefitted from it to some degree.

The new cognitive behavioral programs also work. What that means in plain language is teaching people to think. Thinking precedes behavior, and it is the behavior—the stealing, the assaulting, the drug dealing—that is the problem. By teaching offenders better ways of thinking, bad behavior can be diminished. In Wyoming, we are now using such a program, one that originated in Canada, and the results are promising. Still another thing that works is probation. Probation is guidance with structure. If done correctly, probation can encourage people who are doing what is right and discourage by sanctions people who are doing what is wrong.

It is certainly about values and improving character as is the Scottish Rite. But all of that takes time and relationship building and role modeling, and with 200 cases, it is not possible to have much positive impact. I now have 11 intensive supervision cases, and, finally, after 20 years, I feel like probation is working.

So there are many things we can do with offenders instead of, or in addition to, locking them up. And there are numerous ways these American outcasts are part of a family. First of all, every one of them has a mother and a father. The fathers are often not around, the mothers usually are. I have been in courtrooms with mothers and shared their sorrow as a child is sentenced to prison.

They are also part of the family of community that each of us belongs to. Any child who has been at my home as a friend of my kids is my child. Any boy or girl who has been on my baseball team is my child. Any child I even see as a stranger in this town is mine to protect and defend just because I am an adult in this community. It is a popular saying that "It takes a whole community to raise a child." We need to get better at doing that in the next century. We also need to keep raising them when they are 20 or 30 or 40 and probably not so cute anymore.

And finally, our criminals, addicts, and misfits are part of the family of man. The Scottish Rite has long respected cultural and religious diversity and taught us to love one another. I believe we need to expand our vision of brothers and sisters to include the "bad guys." Some of them, probably 5%, are so self-centered and hateful they do not want to belong to any family. But many of them do not believe they would ever be accepted by the large central core of responsible citizens to which we belong. And that is where we can help: by supporting them, encouraging them, and accepting them as the family members they really are.

John R. Horton
is a member of the Lander, Wyoming, Scottish Rite Bodies, where he works in several of the Degrees and is a Past Patron, Order of Eastern Star. He is a Licensed Addiction Therapist and works as a Supervisor of Intensive Care Agents for the Wyoming Department of Corrections in Lander.