In 1975, Tom Johnson, a lawyer and Catholic Cursillista from Miami, Florida, attended an ecumenical Cursillo gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. Though delegates came from several denominations doing Cursillo weekends, this Atlanta gathering was heavily Lutheran.
Tom Johnson had been imagining a Cursillo program in prison for some months. When he heard some of the delegates actually planning a prison weekend in Iowa, Tom approached the Iowa delegate, Pastor Gene Hermeier and sought permission to attend. One week later, Tom was observing a Cursillo weekend in an Iowa prison and knew that he found a calling. He returned to Miami determined to begin weekends in Florida prisons.
The first weekend was held at Union Correctional Institution at Raiford, Florida in the fall of 1976. It was called Cursillo.
By 1978, six or seven states were doing Cursillo in prison. The national Cursillo office in Dallas, Texas surveyed these prison Cursillos and determined that they should be ecumenical, they should be under a central authority and that the format should be significantly altered to better meet the needs of those in prison. Cursillo asked the Florida group to design a program for that particular application.
After the first Kairos was presented in 1979, Cursillo requested those who were doing Cursillo in prison to quit the practice. Most of those districts became associated with Kairos.
Kairos dates its history back to that first weekend at UCI at Raiford, Florida. Kairos is now active in 25 states, England and Australia. The ministry is active in 165 prisons and has 11 Kairos Outside ministries for wives and mothers. More than 95,000 incarcerated men and women have been introduced to the Christian community that is Kairos and the current rate of introduction exceeds 10,000 per year.
Dr. Peter P. Legins, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland, Institute of Criminal Justice and Criminology, is considered by most people to be the dean of American criminologists. In a meeting with a group of men who were the founders of Kairos, he said: "I have known for many years, as have most of the leading criminologists in this country, that the greatest hope for an inmate to avoid the revolving doors of our prisons is to undergo a religious conversion experience during his incarceration."
The purpose of Kairos is the building of strong Christian communities within the environment of correctional institutions. That is done through the impact of small, share and prayer groups of residents in the institutions. These groups meet weekly to share their lives on a very deep spiritual level and to pray for one and other and for the residents and the staff.
Kairos is a continuing prison ministry launched with the presentation of a 3-day short course in Christianity in a correctional institution. Beginning with a spiritual introduction on Thursday evening, the course runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The short course is offered, in cooperation with the Chaplain, by an inter-denominational team of some 50-55 men (or women in a women's institution) made up of both clergy and lay persons drawn from the area surrounding the institution. It is attended by 42 carefully selected leaders chosen by the Chaplain from the residents of the institution.
Usually all 42 residents attending a Kairos weekend will have a major conversion experience during the weekend. For some, its effect with last only a day or two, for some a week or two, for some a month or two. For most, however, it will prove to have a life-changing experience of permanent impact.
The primary continuing ministry of Kairos is from resident to resident and occurs in small share and prayer groups which meet weekly.
Team members who work a Kairos team make a commitment to return to that prison once a month for a reunion with the residents. It is a time of sharing, of instruction, of worship, of fellowship, of renewal and strengthening... for both outmates and inmates.
Kairos weekends, with their subsequent 2-day retreats, take place every six months once the ministry is launched in an institution. After these small groups have been meeting regularly and participating in the ongoing worship and activities of the institution's chaplaincy program for about 12 months, members of the group suddenly find their peers in the "negative" subculture, in which they have been leaders, coming up to them and saying, "Man, I don't know what it is you've got, but I want it!"... and they then introduce their friend to Christ and the Christian community work of Kairos.
Even though prison sentences in the United States are long in comparison with other countries, most inmates will return to society in less than three years. Ninety-six percent of them will eventually be walking the same streets which we walk.
For a variety of reasons, from 30 to 70 percent of those released will return to prison again. Continuing studies being carried out in South Carolina, Texas, Colorado and California indicate dramatic reductions in the recidivism rate among those residents who have experienced Kairos.
Kairos files are full of letters from prison superintendents, wardens, correctional officers and other members of the criminal justice system detailing the extremely favorable impact the Kairos ministry has had on the quality of life in prisons across the country and in Canada.
The first Kairos at F.C.I. Terminal Island was held on October 5-8, 1990. It was the first Kairos weekend held in Southern California. Since that time there have been 30 other weekends.