FWE Curriculum Project

Transformation From the Inside Out: The Power of Prison Education

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My classroom is unique. It is located at the Nash Correctional Institution, a minimum and medium custody prison in north central North Carolina. You may be wondering what prison education has to do with faith, work and economics. I would answer that prison education, specifically prison education rooted in a distinctively Christian worldview, has everything to do with faith, work and economics.

I have the distinct privilege of directing the North Carolina Field Minister Program (NCFMP). The NCFMP is a joint educational venture of The College at Southeastern, Game Plan for Life (a non-profit started by legendary NFL and NASCAR figure Joe Gibbs), and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. The purpose of the program is to change the culture of the North Carolina prison system by offering a fully accredited, 127 hour undergraduate degree program to the most influential prisoners in the system – those with long term sentences (15 years or more).

Unlike traditional prison ministries which rely on volunteers who have limited access to the prison population and must return home at the conclusion of each day, the NCFMP is an educational program that trains and equips long term offenders to make a difference from the “inside out.” When these students graduate, they will be sent in teams to other facilities across the state to perform duties commensurate to their training. They will serve the offender population (approximately 37,000 men and women) in juvenile and hospice facilities, as assistants to chaplains, and in other educational programs. Their remaining days in prison will not be spent in despair and apathy but in the joy of service.

The NCFMP is an educational program that trains and equips long term offenders to make a difference from the “inside out.”

The NCFMP invests primarily in long term inmates despite the fact that there is little to no monetary return on the investment. The vast majority of rehabilitative programs focus on those leaving prison in five years or less. In a much less tangible way, the NCFMP offers hope to the hopeless, purpose to the purposeless and healing to the broken. Most of the men in the program will never again work a “job” in the free world. Does that make the work they are being prepared for meaningless? Absolutely not. As Dr. Benjamin Quinn mentioned in his opening article, these men are being educated, equipped and trained to offer spiritual advice and practical life counseling where they are among some of the most broken individuals that society has to offer. Therefore, their work has merit because it’s being done to the glory of God and for the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). Their work is valuable regardless of whether they ever “make a dime.”

Incarceration statistics are notoriously debated and often politicized for the gain of one party’s agenda over its rival. For instance, the key statistic for measuring rehabilitative success –  rate of recidivism – is criticized as being both imprecise and inaccurate and is, therefore, highly debated as a metric by which rehabilitative success can be measured.[1] Conversely, one statistic that is almost universally accepted as accurate is that for every one (1) dollar that is invested in prison education, a return of five (5) dollars is saved on incarceration cost.[2] In other words, when society invests resources into educating individuals who might otherwise have little or no other access to higher education, public money is saved at a rate of 400% on future incarceration costs. With the current, unprecedented level of incarceration and its corresponding societal cost, investment in prison education – among other things – ought to be the proper response of Godly stewards.

It is often said that God is in the “second-chance” business. Indeed, the Bible offers example after example of men and women who openly rebel against God, repent of their wickedness, profess faith in God and are subsequently used by God to advance his kingdom here on earth. The same can be said of the men in the NCFMP. Some of these men have done truly awful things, but they now find themselves in a position to be used by God to change the very culture of one of the darkest places in society. The very heart of the gospel is that, through Jesus, there is hope in an otherwise hopeless environment, peace in the middle of chaos, and healing amidst an expanse of brokenness. No matter how horrific the crime, there is no sin beyond the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Editor’s Note: This article is an installment in the FWE Curriculum Project.

[1] “Measuring Recidivism,” National Institute of Justice, https://www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/recidivism/Pages/measuring.aspx [accessed June 7, 2018].

[2] Delaney, Subramanian, and Patrick, “Making the Grade: Developing Quality Postsecondary Education Programs in Prison.” https://www.vera.org/publications/making-the-grade-postsecondary-education-programs-in-prison. [Accessed June 7, 2018].

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Seth Bible

Dr. Seth Bible has been on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for 15 years, most recently as the director of Prison Programs. In addition to his post as Assistant Professor of Ethics and History of Ideas at SEBTS, he has taught adjunctively for Liberty University, Grand Canyon University and Ashford University. Dr. Bible received his Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Philosophy from Southeastern focusing his doctoral research on the field of environmental virtue ethics. He is the co-author of 'True North: Christ, the Gospel and Creation Care' (with Mark Liederbach). He married his wife Kristy in 2003, and together they have 4 children.

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