Prison is an angry place. For something good to come from the prison experience it almost takes a miracle. But yes, things are happening!
Prison Fellowship quotes a former inmate who says anger is the only acceptable emotion in prison. There are many reasons to be angry behind bars: loss of freedom, disrespect from fellow inmates, and so-called friends and family that have vanished. Besides, some days it seems if you aren’t angry, you’ll get run over.
We’re learning that an antidote to that toxic environment is education.
7 years ago Calvin University began offering a program leading to a Bachelor’s Degree. Each year 20 students from Michigan prisons are selected and enrolled in the five-year program at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia. These are legitimate credit courses taught by professors.
We’ve watched the program over the years, and a number of our friends and clients have participated. But the thing that really impressed me as to the program’s effectiveness was a simple luncheon meeting.
Five former inmates, graduates of the Calvin Prison Initiative, had graciously agreed to make a presentation in an adult education class in our church. You gotta keep in mind, here, that these five men spent years and years in that dark, angry atmosphere that I described. The big difference is that these are not angry people. They recognize how fortunate they were to get into a program where they could not only further their education, but could fraternize with like-minded individuals, all people of faith.
It's no secret that, even in our own circles, some negative or unkind things get said. In conversations with family and friends, it’s not uncommon to make negative comments about a co-worker, a friend, or relative, who did or said something we didn’t appreciate.
When I had lunch with these men Sunday, I heard NOT ONE NEGATIVE WORD in the entire conversation. To the contrary, these guys---perhaps considered seasoned criminals by the rest of the world---were kind, gentle, loving, supportive, gracious, not only to their hosts, but with each other. It’s exactly the type of person, the type of behavior, we want back in society!
Study upon study unanimously conclude that higher education programs in prison drastically reduce recidivism, cut down on crime, and save tax-payer dollars, not to mention the long-term contributions to the safety and well-being of the communities where these people are heading.
Hope College and Western Theological Seminary of Holland are now operating a similar program in the Muskegon Correctional Facility. God bless both of these schools for providing such innovative opportunities for the incarcerated.
Offering a college education behind bars is a win all the way around. Data support the fact that reentry for that prisoner is enhanced by increased personal income, lower unemployment, greater political engagement and volunteerism, and even improved health.
They may not be perfect. They'll be modifying and improving along the way. But, our hope is that the MDOC not only supports these two wonderful programs, but also encourages more colleges to get involved.