From the AP
The graduates patted each other’s backs, and nervously chatted with their families. Some sat quietly, meditating about their future while others wept. It could have been a scene from any of the thousands of commencement ceremonies this year. But these graduates were convicted killers, rapists and drug dealers at Mississippi’s only maximum security prison.
The Parchman inmates received bachelor’s degrees in Christian ministry from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The accredited Southern Baptist school first began offering prison courses in 1996 to Louisiana inmates at Angola prison. Along with expanding to Parchman, the seminary is working in Georgia and Florida prisons, said seminary provost Steve Lemke.
The path to graduation was dangerous for inmates at Parchman. Some were beaten out of prison gangs or mocked by the criminals they’ll soon attempt to counsel and lead to faith. “The people are scared of you,” said the graduation speaker, Burl Cain, longtime warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, who was at Parchman for the recent event. “Everybody’s watching you. They’re waiting for you to fail.” But Cain said they will be expected to help transform prison culture through their faith.
Several religiously based schools offer educational programs in prison. Liberty University in Virginia, New York Theological Seminary and Mercy College are among them, according to Mark Early, president of Prison Fellowship, a national prison ministry. Columbia International University, a conservative Christian school, operates a degree program in South Carolina, graduating 15 inmates in December. At New York’s Sing Sing Prison, more than 100 convicts have completed the Mercy College program, Early said. Forty-five have been released and haven’t returned to prison.
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