Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

September 2008

Sally Halford

Sally Halford speaks on second chances and faith

Sally Halford devoted more than 30 years to the field of corrections and served as director in county and state departments of corrections throughout the Midwest. Now retired, Sally occasionally acts as a consultant to both public and private agencies. She and her husband live on a small berry farm in northwest Missouri. 

Through experiences in life and Unity teachings, Sally came to believe everyone deserves a second chance. As a director of several corrections facilities, she put her belief into practice and saw lives transformed.

Even now I remember how I felt as a sad and confused little girl at age six. My mother and father had divorced. The father I adored was no longer in my life. My mother was distraught, continually wringing her hands and crying, not knowing how she could raise my three brothers and me on her own.

I missed my dad. Every time I heard the rumblings of a truck on the road outside the country school where I attended first grade, I would run to the window and wave, hoping it was my dad. I would always come away feeling brokenhearted because it wasn’t him. He had abandoned my family and me.

Thank God, a neighbor sent me a subscription to Wee Wisdom® magazine from Unity, which gave me a second chance at life. In fact, I believe the teachings featured in this children’s magazine, once published by Unity, may have saved my life. I understood that God’s spirit was within me and could be expressed as me in wonderful, powerful ways. I knew I had a choice in how my life could unfold. Unity has been an influence in my life for more than 50 years.

I am now retired after a long career in the corrections field, during which my Unity background sustained me. As a director of several correctional facilities, I offered inmates a second chance at life.

At the Kansas Correctional Institution at Lansing (KCIL), where I was director, we began a new program where both men and women were housed in the same minimum security prison. I was excited about this program because I knew that inmates who served long terms without ever talking with or being around those of the opposite sex were doomed to fail in society once they were released.

At KCIL, male and female inmates had opportunities to relate with one another during supervised, structured activities such as self-help programs, educational classes, dances, and team sports. The men and women had rooms, instead of cells, in dorms at opposite ends of the campus. Some inmates were able to leave during the day to work at a local factory. All in all, it was a proving ground before they were deemed ready for release from the state prison system.

The new program was still proving itself when an inmate, we’ll call him John, entered the program. He was a tall, muscular African-American man, a loner who never smiled or talked to many people. John did form a kind of puppy-love relationship with another inmate, a beautiful young woman. We’ll use the name Sarah. When another inmate flirted with Sarah in front of John, he went into a rage and trashed his room. The rule was: any violent behavior and the inmate went back to the Kansas State Prison. And John went back.

Taking a Chance

I was working in my office late at night when a counselor from the state prison called and said John wanted to talk to me. John asked if he could come back, but I told him I would have to give it some serious thought. I knew the future of our program depended on not bringing anyone in who might act out violently.

I sat in my office that night with the lights turned off and prayed. I asked God to show me what to do. I believed that this program had so much to offer John, and I knew that this might be the last chance this 49-year-old man had to rid himself of the demonic thoughts and memories that he had held within for so long. The answer came: call the prison and ask them to bring John over to talk with me.

As he sat across from me in my office, I said: “John, there are two things you must agree to do before I even consider taking you back. One, you have to meet regularly with our psychologist.” John said, “I will.” “Second,” I continued, “I cannot and will not tolerate any more violent behavior.” “No more violence,” he promised. Then this huge man started sobbing, saying, “No one has ever given me a second chance.” Overnight John changed. It was a miracle.

He came back to KCIL, and from all appearances he was a different man. Now he smiled, laughed, and talked with everyone. John served the next nine months as a model inmate, and after meeting with the parole board, he was expecting to be released.

Sadly, John died of a massive heart attack before he could be released. Yet I believe he did gain his freedom—freedom from whatever had hurt him in the past, freedom from the hurt he had caused, and freedom to be a person who enjoyed life to the fullest, right where he was.

Opening Doors

I believe my life could have taken a totally different turn, a wrong turn, if I hadn’t received Wee Wisdom as a child. In the facilities where I served as director or warden, I witnessed how inmates’ lives were often changed when Unity ministers brought Daily Word magazines and offered seminars that opened the door to a new life.

I think it’s important that we reach out to people and let them know we care. Obviously, in helping people, we need to set some rules, just as I did with John. We can all open doors for others, but they must be willing to walk through them. We cannot take someone who has been deprived of everything, however, and say “Okay, here’s the candy store.” Change can be a slow process, but I believe everyone can move ahead with change—even one inch at a time.

I thank God for the opportunities I have had to make a difference in the lives of others. I thank God for the neighbor who sent me Wee Wisdom, for John, and for all the people who have made such a wonderful difference in my life.