The following are remarks by Erika Harold as prepared for delivery on August 31 at the 2004 Republican National Convention:
We often see images of Americans serving in our military. Their sacrifices and valor exemplify the very best of the American spirit.
But we seldom see the images of those fighting a different, but perhaps just as important war: the war against despair.
These people clothe shivering children, help shatter the shackles of drug addiction and comfort the sick. They're call to service comes from diverse teachings, encompassing many different religions.
President Bush's faith-based initiatives are meeting this challenge, empowering all people to use their talents, resources, and, yes, faith, in the service of others.
The president's initiatives enable Americans to meet the desires of their hearts and make miracles happen. These initiatives turn compassion into action.
As Miss America, I've spoken to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country and have seen this triumph of the human spirit first-hand.
Nowhere was this more evident than inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary, previously known as America's worst prison, where 85 percent of inmates are there for life.
While this may seem a strange place for Miss America to tour, I was compelled to visit after hearing about the successes of the prison's faith-based initiatives. These programs were set up to reaffirm the dignity of prisoners and, by doing so, rehabilitate them.
Prisoners were challenged to realize that they too must answer their call to serve. As a result, inmates there are pursuing theological certifications and work in prison ministries, spreading a message of hope and raising money for charitable endeavors.
The results are astonishing. Violence between inmates has declined by almost half. And violence against prison workers has dropped 70 percent.
As a result, when I walked through the prison, I met inmates not waiting to die, but men grateful for a second opportunity to truly live.
The president's compassion for those who seek a second chance is inspiring. He knows that the American people are forgiving. If given the chance, we will help our neighbors rise up out of hopelessness.
To that end, the president proposed a four-year, $300 million initiative to help recently released prisoners make a successful transition back to society. Although we will never be able to thank all those who wage war against despair, we are able to join them in their crusade of compassion.
We can answer President Bush's call to service in our own communities, whether they're the prairies of Illinois or the boroughs of New York City. And in those solitary, uncelebrated moments in the soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or an orphanage, perhaps we will then truly know what it is to see the face of God. Thank you very much.