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Thursday, February 18, 2010

'A New Hope' for Angola inmates

A new film was recently screened at Angola, a Louisiana State Penetentiary entitled A New Hope. Over 800 prisoners were able to watch it. It chronicles The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary which opened an extension center there in 1996 to provide an education and theological training to the inmates. The results speak for themselves.

"Since the NOBTS extension center opened in 1996, 147 former and current inmates have embraced a calling to the ministry and earned bachelor of arts in Christian ministry degrees. Currently, 120 inmates are enrolled, extension center director John Robson said.

The Bible college, as the Angola extension center also is called, has changed the prison's atmosphere. In 1995, Angola reported 1,016 violent incidents, including assaults, murders, suicides and escapes. In 2008, there were only 376 incidences of violence, mostly inmate-on-inmate assaults without weapons, according to prison records.

Angola's current population includes 70 NOBTS graduates. They lead congregations at the six interfaith chapels on the prison grounds, assist chaplains in ministry and, in a new program, serve as missionaries for three-month stints at other correctional facilities in the state. Currently, 28 incarcerated graduates are ministering in seven state correctional centers and the State Police Barracks, according to Angola communications officer Gary Young. "The Bible college here is a miracle story," said Robert Toney, a NAMB-endorsed chaplain who has served at Angola the past 10 years. "It has brought tremendous hope to the prison population. Inmates can graduate with a B.A. degree in religion, a legitimate degree. They can go to LSU or anywhere they want to go and build on that degree."

I think it's a wonderful thing what the Southern Baptists are doing in Angola and elsewhere. There are plans to expand the project to to other states as well. A considerable amount of inmates arent going anywhere, anytime real soon and they might as well help further the Kingdom while they are there if they feel the calling.



12 comments:

photogr said...

This is good reading. Lets hope they can lead better lives.

JD Curtis said...

Thanks photogr. If it's verifiably reducing violent incidents, then it should be encouraged.

SmartLX said...

I found a clip of it here, JD. Interesting that the film's about the Angola prison program and it's immediately being shown to the inmates there. It's apparently become an induction of sorts.

I have to say I can see a lot of benefits for inmates doing the program, but they have little to do with God or the Kingdom.

- According to this, the Bible college is the only legitimate tertiary degree available to the inmates. The other programs, for example the auto mechanics course, are "vocational". (Funny how they use that word for everything else, since it's so appropriate to a church "calling".) Thanks to Bill Clinton, there are no competing Pell Grants to be had in the clink.

- New Bible students would immediately gain at least a small measure of approval and respect from prison staff all the way up to the chief warden, who started the program, and eligible inmates who decline may well get a hard time instead.

- Graduates have better employment and study options when they get out, which the excerpt says and I believe. Degree aside, to the average employer in the South nothing says "reformed" like a Bible in an ex-con's hand.

- Even graduates who are lifers get to do regular ministry work, which allows them to travel outside the facility and is physically easier than the alternatives at Angola (like making mops, brooms and wheelchairs).

- 90% of Louisiana's people are nominally Christian to begin with. Add to that the program's director John Robsons boasting, "Seventy percent of our students became Christians after they came [to Angola]," which in light of the previous probably means they just became observant ones. Living in that population, anyone even tenuously tied to the church has got to be a little less likely to be beaten, raped or killed on a given day.

Frankly, I can see why inmates would want to convince the staff that they'd had a calling even if God hadn't said a damn word to them.

JD Curtis said...

I'm sure they weed them out on a case by case basis.

I'll check out the link.

JD Curtis said...

eligible inmates who decline may well get a hard time instead

I thought the link would spell out the idea of a "hard time". But maybe that was just speculation? I worked with adjudcated youths, the older ones right before they became adults. I think religious education helped some. At that age though, they're really more skeptical than anything else IMO and it's only going to benefit a small minority.

SmartLX said...

No, sorry, the link is just basic information about the prison from a nationwide database. "hard time" was pure speculation based on the Baptist culture apparently prevalent throughout the prison.

I gather that in certain parts of the US, Baptists are as focused on doorknocking and direct conversions as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists are more widely. I'm simply imagining such people with a literally captive audience.

And I didn't say convincing the staff of a divine calling would be easy. From my perspective, though, even the sincere ones have already managed to convince themselves, and it is indeed what the staff want to hear from its wayward wards.

JD Curtis said...

I gather that in certain parts of the US, Baptists are as focused on doorknocking and direct conversions as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists are more widely

Speaking from experience, they do. In the county I live in, the residents are about to get a healthy dose of Presbyterians (PCA) doing much the same thing as my church and several others will begin to doing so.

even the sincere ones have already managed to convince themselves, and it is indeed what the staff want to hear from its wayward wards

I would imagine that consistency (as much that could be expected in a seeting like that) would be key in determining a person's zeal for such a calling. In how they play with others and how they deal with conflict resolution.

SmartLX said...

Who is your church, JD, now that you mention it?

Ross said...

Anything program that reduces the rates of parolees re-offending, faith based or otherwise, must be good. There was a storm in teacup controversy here a while back when prisons starting offering the Alpha course.

SmartLX said...

Now that you mention that, Ross, have there been any studies of comparative recidivism rates between those who found God in jail and those who didn't?

JD Curtis said...

Ross, do you have a good link re: the Alpha source controversy from a periodical down under?

LX in answer to your question, this church is the type that I attend. Their official webpage is www.pcanet.org

SmartLX said...

Ta JD.