This website is the home site of my criminal reformation apostolate; here you can find details about the Lampstand Foundation which I founded as a 501c (3) nonprofit corporation in Sacramento, California in 2003.
I also maintain a daily blog, The Catholic Eye, https://catholiceye.wordpress.com/
The work connected to the apostolate is listed under the home page categories which I will be expanding as needed.
(1) These excerpts are from the 2009 article, By the Secret Ladder: Christian Mysticism and Liberation of the Imprisoned, by Dr. Andrew Skotnicki in the journal Theology Today (66) 33-44
In a recent autobiographical account, David Lukenbill writes of the thin line separating the frequently distorted values of penal environments and those in which most of us live: “The cruelty and brutality of the prison is classically evil in the sense that the prisoners are being cruel and brutal consciously. That is the paradigm that works. It is not that there is that much in the prison that doesn’t happen on the outside, it’s just that in prison it is so much more concentrated.” (n. 13, David H. Lukenbill, The Criminal’s Search for God (Sacramento, CA: Chulu, 2006), p. 19) (p. 36)
David Lukenbill discovered Thomas Merton in one of his many institutional commitments and similarly writes that there is “much of the monastery in prison.” (n. 23, Lukenbill, Criminal’s Search for God, p. 18.) Furthermore, he narrates the powerful religious experience he has while on a hunger strike in solitary confinement. In words that recall the self-surrender type of conviction found in the work of William James, he calls it a “break down”: “I prayed to God to forgive and protect me and He came to me. I felt such peace and rapture. I felt I was lifted out and walked with Him in a beautiful mountain meadow.” (n. 24 Ibid., p. 20.) (pp. 38-39)
(2) The following article is from an interview by Scott Alessi for the In Focus Prison Ministry special in the May 23, 2010 Issue of Our Sunday Visitor News Weekly. (pp. 9-12)
Ex-prisoner uses Catholic teaching to break ‘criminal world culture’
There’s an old adage when dealing with criminals that it takes a thief to catch a thief. But David Lukenbill believes that saying can be taken one step further: It takes a reformed criminal to reform a criminal.
Lukenbill knows firsthand how difficult it can be for a professional criminal to turn his or her life around.
Many years ago, Lukenbill was drawn into a life of crime by the lure of monetary gains, which ultimately landed him inside a maximum security prison. And even though he started to experience some internal rehabilitation during a year in solitary confinement, it didn’t hold once he was back among the other inmates.
“Once I got back out into the prison population, I pretty much reverted,” Lukenbill said. “The criminal world culture is so dominant in there, and it is pretty hard to counteract that.”
But the seeds of spiritual renewal that were planted when Lukenbill was in prison eventually bore fruit later in his life. He turned his back on the criminal lifestyle and, having continued his education and converted to Catholicism, saw an opportunity to tackle the staggering rates of recidivism by helping other former prisoners change the course of their lives.
Based on his own experience of the prison lifestyle, Lukenbill told Our Sunday Visitor that the traditional programs offered to facilitate criminal rehabilitation and re-entry often fail because they don’t get to the heart of the issue, which is internal conversion.
“You can provide all the services that you want – and the research bears this out – but a service isn’t what changes a criminal,” he said. “Criminals are internally committed to being criminals, and rehabilitation is an internal process.”
Noting the lack of success in many efforts, Lukenbill felt called to offer an alternative model. Relying on his experience and the tenants of Catholic social teaching, he founded The Lampstand Foundation, an organization that provides resources for reformed criminals who wish to help others find redemption after being released from prison.
“The tools we are putting together are for other people like me who want to take what they’ve learned from their own conversion and help other people,” Lukenbill explained.
And the catalyst for that change can often be found in the Church’s social teaching, which can provide both the intellectual and spiritual foundation for a criminal’s transformation, he added.
“Once I really got into Catholic social teaching I saw how powerful it was to address the hold that the criminal world culture has on people who are criminals, including myself,” he said. “The potency of the social teaching was strong enough to trump that of the criminal world virtually at every point.” (p. 12)
(3) The following article is from the January 11, 2011 Catholic Culture website.
Reforming Criminals By Dr. Jeff Mirus, January 11, 2011
The only daily paper we get in our household is the local paper which covers our town and county in Northern Virginia, or about 375,000 souls. Despite this modest population, nearly every day there is a new local disaster on the front page, very often a crime—burglary, armed robbery, assault, child pornography, even murder. Some of the reports are perversely humorous, as in the recent robbery of a convenience store in which the perpetrator used a six-foot broken branch as a weapon; or the effort to steal a van while the owner was busy in the back. But we’ve had a string of over twenty burglaries in nearby neighborhoods in recent weeks, there have been some unprovoked gang attacks, and today we learned about the first murder of the new year.
Crimes of passion—and the violent use of an available knife or hand gun in a sudden quarrel—are to some degree understandable, as is the increased incidence of random violence in a crumbling society which is increasingly incapable of nurturing well-adjusted and fundamentally happy people. But consistent criminal activity is a trickier subject; one wonders about the causes that lead someone down that path. A great deal of ink has been spilled over the past fifty years on the sociology of crime, and in particular the degree to which the criminal is himself a victim who cannot be held completely responsible for his actions. Among various attempts to identify root problems, we have seen indictments of society as a whole, of capitalism in particular, and even of the criminal justice system itself.
One man who works directly in this area of assessing criminal responsibility believes that such analyses are fundamentally unproductive. David H. Lukenbill, himself a former 20-year criminal and founder of The Lampstand Foundation, puts the matter succinctly: “In the work of criminal reformation, it is vital to keep in mind that the criminal is the problem.” Lukenbill now devotes his life to criminal reformation, and to recruiting other former criminals who have gone on to convert or come back to their Catholic faith (as Lukenbill did) to work directly to touch and transform others.
Another point Lukenbill makes is that most current efforts at criminal rehabilitation exhibit little success, or perhaps even what we might euphemistically call negative success. Again and again he points to studies which show that criminals who participate in rehabilitation programs have a recidivation rate slightly higher than non-participant control groups. This is often true with not only secular but faith-based programs. This sobering fact, which Lukenbill attributes partly to what he calls the “hardening and deepening of the criminal/carceral [prison] world over the past several decades”, has led him to a conclusion which lies at the heart of his apostolic work: “It takes a reformed criminal to reform criminals.”
Lukenbill believes that a reformed criminal can both understand the criminal mindset and relate to the criminal in ways that maximize the chance of long-term success. The type of reformed criminal Lukenbill is looking for is not just one who has embraced the Catholic Faith—though that is central—but one who has gone on to seek an appropriate graduate degree or other professional training as well as a deeper understanding of Catholic social teaching. He wants people who are prepared by both personal experience and education to contribute to the reform effort, and he is convinced that Catholic social teaching is the only system of thought which, as he put it, can “trump” the criminal mindset at every turn.
This last point is extremely interesting, and it brings us back to questions about the larger social order. Lukenbill is saying, in effect, that the criminal mentality is based (more or less deliberately) on a skewed theory of how society works or ought to work. It is therefore hard to counter without a comprehensive and compelling theory of one’s own. For David Lukenbill, Catholic social teaching provided that alternative theory—a consistent narrative of how society ought to work which can get inside even a criminal’s head.
This is worth pursuing. Just as we can be surprised from time to time by encountering a new sort of job or profession—one that we hadn’t imagined existed before (a phenomenon which inspired several stories by G. K. Chesterton growing out of his club of queer trades)—we can be both surprised and blessed by the knowledge that there is no end to the number of Catholic apostolates needed to address the problems of a fallen world. The Lampstand Foundation may be justly added to an ever-growing and inspirational list. For those interested, David Lukenbill also writes a blog covering news and developments in criminal rehabilitation at Catholic Eye. (Retrieved January 11, 2011 from http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otc.cfm?id=757
(4) The following article from an interview by Brian Fraga is from the June 2012 US Catholic magazine.
David Lukenbill bears witness to the fact that living outside the law doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
A knock on the door introduced David Lukenbill to a life of crime. “My real dad got out of prison when I was 12,” recalls Lukenbill. “He showed up on our door one day and my mother said, “This is your real father’” His dad, a member of the infamous Pendergast gang in Kansas City, Missouri, had spent 10 years behind bars at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Father and son quickly bonded. “I admired my father,” says Lukenbill, admitting that he was drawn to his dad’s criminal past. Within a couple of years Lukenbill began following in his father’s footsteps, stealing and committing armed robberies. He spent 12 of the next 20 years in prison.
“When I was a criminal, I believed that I was acting according to what the truth of the world was,” he says. “Rather than working for somebody and enslaving myself for money, I was just taking it, which was what I believed the most powerful people in the world did.”
Lukenbill, now 69, was 15 when he was first imprisoned for theft. He was sent to a foster youth ranch in Nevada, from which he escaped. At 16 he was caught stealing cars and sent to the Nevada State Reformatory, but again he broke free and drove a stolen vehicle across the state line. He was arrested again and taken to a federal prison in Englewood, Colorado where he served a four-year sentence.
But Lukenbill says his prison time only served to make the criminal lifestyle more appealing. He spent another three years in a California state prison for an assault conviction. At Fort Leavenworth, serving a separate four-year sentence for stealing, he even met some inmates who remembered his father. “That situation is unfortunately all too common among families,” he says.
TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF: Three years after leaving Fort Leavenworth, a period in which he admits to committing more crimes for which he was never caught, Lukenbill enrolled at Sacramento City College on the advice of friends. While earning his associate’s degree, Lukenbill received a federal grant to create an on-campus educational program for inmates. Over three years, 50 inmates attended classes on campus each semester. It was about this time that Lukenbill, who was raised in a Mormon household that looked down on Catholicism, began exploring various religions.
“When I was in jail, I did a lot of reading and thinking about what was true. One of the biggest motivators in my life was wanting to know the truth,” he says. Lukenbill said he started seriously studying Judaism and considered converting until he encountered the “problem of Jesus.”
“With me, it began as an intellectual process,” he says. “As I encountered Catholicism, there was never a point I reached where questions couldn’t be answered.” Lukenbill also discovered Catholic social teaching and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and several Jesuit authors, including English Jesuit Father Rodger Charles, author of Christian Social Witness and Teaching (Gracewing).
“The more I looked into Catholic social teaching the more sense it made to me,” he says. “The deeper I got, the more the truths resonated with me.”
In 2004 Lukenbill and his wife entered the Catholic Church, which finally changed his outlook on life. “I still had no real sense of morality,” he says. “Once I became Catholic and internalized the values, especially when I adopted the daily practice of the rosary and Mass, it changed me considerably. I haven’t had any of the anger I lived with for most of my life.”
BREAKING THE CYCLE: Now a resident of Sacramento, California, Lukenbill applies the church’s social doctrine to reform what he calls “career criminals,” people who commit crimes for financial gain. In 2003 Lukenbill founded the Lampstand Foundation, a lay apostolate that provides written materials and resources to small non-profits and agencies involved in prisoner re-entry programs, including some church-affiliated organizations.
Lukenbill writes reports and develops programs to be used as a guide to help criminals who are eager to reform themselves. To counteract the ingrained anti-social mentality among lifelong criminals, Lukenbill introduces them to the works of Aquinas, the social encyclicals, and the papal magisterium. He believes those writings comprise the only body of thought potent enough to trump the allure of a criminal lifestyle. “The one thing about professional criminals is that they want to know the truth of the world,” he says.
Several of the non-profits that subscribe to Lampstand Foundation’s programs are also run by former criminals, which goes to the heart of a principle Lukenbill espouses: Only former criminals can reform criminals. “We have a bond of trust when we speak to one another about what we have learned,” Lukenbill says of those who have turned away from a life of crime. “If we talk for a bit, we find we know people in common and that we’ve been in some of the same prisons. We trust each other.”
As president of Lukenbill & Associates, he now earns an honest living providing consultant services for non-profits. He does not collect a paycheck from the Lampstand Foundation. “It’s about taking everything I’ve learned and sharing those ideas,” he says. “It’s an act of love.” USC