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McGreevey's new role: counseling inmates

KEARNY, N.J. -- For anyone curious about what Jim McGreevey is up to, seven years after coming out of the closet to become the first openly gay governor and resigning over an affair with a male staffer, his simple answer is this: "Having lunch at Hudson County Correctional Center."

But the story of his nationally televised fall from grace on Aug. 12, 2004, and subsequent search for a more authentic life is much more nuanced than that. His journey finds him, on weekdays anyway, inside one of New Jersey's largest jails.

McGreevey, 54, is the spiritual counselor to 40 female inmates locked up for crimes ranging from manslaughter and gun possession to drug dealing. Almost all have addiction problems and pasts stained with sexual violence.

The women McGreevey counsels -- he affectionately refers to them as "my ladies" -- are enrolled in a pilot program aimed at reducing recidivism by addressing the problems that keep them coming back to jail: drug dependence, difficulty finding jobs, lack of decent housing, absence of psychological counseling.

"Prison ministry is something that spoke very deeply to me -- allowing women and men to reclaim their lives, to go beyond our personal circumstances," says McGreevey, who was introduced to jailhouse mentoring after enrolling in an Episcopal seminary in 2007. Following the 12-step treatment model made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, he encourages the women to find and embrace a higher power.

"Every day is an incredible blessing," McGreevey says. "I learn so much more from these women than I can give them -- their honesty, courage and strength. It's a very different place than politics."

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