Posts tagged with: prison ministry

The Author Interviewing Inmate Pastor Jerome Derricks inside a Church at Angola Prison in 2012.

The author interviewing Inmate Pastor Jerome Derricks inside an Angola Prison Church in 2012.

The New York Times ran a piece over the weekend about the success of the bible college run through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola Prison. Warden Burl Cain calls the college “the game changer,” and he added “It changed the culture of the prison.” Historically, Angola was known as one of the most violent and dangerous prisons in the country. Now Angola’s educational model is being replicated at other state penitentiaries across the nation.

Maybe surprising to some, even the ACLU has conceded the bible college is important to Angola’s inmates:

‘I think that what Burl Cain calls moral rehabilitation is, in his mind, religious doctrine, but a lot of good has come of it,’ Ms. Esman said. ‘I think it’s unfortunate that the only college available is a Christian one, but the fact that a college is there at all is important.’

Higher educational opportunities were pulled years ago from the prison because of budget cuts and as a result the bible college has come in to fill the educational vacuum.

Religion & Liberty interviewed Warden Cain in 2012. I took a tour of Angola Prison too and wrote a commentary about the spiritual transformation and revival among inmates. Recently, I touched on the impact of the inmate led hospice program at Angola.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Steven Garner

Steve Garner

Angola’s Fall rodeo is a well known and popular occurrence at the prison. Perhaps less known on the outside of the prison is the inmate led hospice program. Warden Burl Cain launched the program in 1997 to bring more dignity for the dying process of inmates. Cardboard boxes have been replaced with caskets built by prisoners and handmade quilts drape the caskets of the deceased.

Hospice is also instrumental to the kind of moral rehabilitation that has transformed the culture of violence that once plagued the prison. When I visited Angola Prison to interview Cain and tour the facilities, I also visited the hospice chapel and spoke with hospice inmate volunteers Randolph Matthieu and Steven Garner. Both men are featured in the documentary “Serving Life” narrated by actor Forest Whitaker. Garner, who has volunteered with the hospice program since its inception, plays a prominent role.

Both men, convicted of second degree murder, are serving life sentences at Angola. Matthieu told me in his interview, “If people would just come to Angola and see who we are, perception would change.” Louisiana’s harsh but popular sentencing laws leave them with little hope for release. It was evident that Garner and Matthieu put a lot of pride and dedication into the kind of care they provide to the dying inmates.

If you have a Netflix account, you can now stream “Serving Life” and it’s well worth your time. It gives you a powerful look into a program that is changing the lives of some of the most hardened criminals. Below is an extended trailer of the film.

I’m just back from the republic of Texas and Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference. One of my fellow lecturers was Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ben Phillips. In between sessions, he showed me a recent Houston television news piece on SWBTS’s Darrington prison extension, where Phillips and other Southwestern profs are bringing prisoners to Christ, with a plan to send graduates of the program to other Texas prisons. Many of these men may grow old and die in prison, but they won’t die without hope, and they won’t die without becoming a blessing to their fellow prisoners at Darrington and other Texas prisons.

The cover story of a recent Religion & Liberty tells about a similar program on a larger scale, at Angola Prison in Louisiana, where many men on death row, with no hope of parole, have been transformed by the power of the Gospel.

It’s hard to imagine an example more dramatic than Angola prison, but if there is one, it’s the work of Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana, Prison Fellowship, and others to bring the grace of Christ to the imprisoned genocidiers of Rwanda. Through this work, many of the men involved in the 1994 genocide that took almost a million Rwandan lives have repented of their participation in the genocide, sought and obtained forgiveness from the families of their victims (itself a miracle), and been reintegrated into society after serving their prison sentences. (more…)