Three years ago two Lutheran pastor friends of mine, Rev. David Schultz and Rev. John Cain, invited me to join them on a trip to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, with a man named Grove Norwood. I experienced a prison that had been transformed from “the bloodiest prison in America” to a place of peace. Grove was instrumental in that transition.
Without going into greater detail right now, I bring to your attention an edited transcript of an Austin television channel news report earlier this week. Here’s the video link to this report: http://kxan.com/2016/05/10/prison-priests-texas-inmates-graduate-seminary-school/.
On Monday, 33 Texas inmates traded their prison garb for graduation caps and gowns and the Holy Bible at Texas’ maximum security Darrington Unit. They were the second graduating class in the prison to receive a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School since the program was created by the state six years ago.
“God has transformed some really bad people into some really amazing people,” said Dr. Benjamin Phillips, Director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School. “Men in prison listen best to those who have walked in their shoes, who know what their life is like and live it alongside of them, and whose lives have transformed already.”
Dr. Phillips said in order to be allowed into the program the inmates must be serving a lengthy sentence and promise to spend six years working with other inmates at prisons across Texas.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said. “They will all pay their dues to society; they will all pay their sentences, many of them serving life long sentences.” Patrick said this is not a “get out of jail free card” for the inmates. They still have to serve their full time in prison.
Warren Craig Bishop II entered the Darrington Prison Unit in 1997. A graduate of the seminary program, he said: “I wasn’t a believer. I wasn’t a Christian. I was a complete sinner. I was a murderer, a thief, a crook, everything. Coming to know Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, I’ve seen that he has forgiven me for all of that. It’s a tough road, but it’s a glorious one to go down.”
Texas has the largest prison system in the country with about 147,000 inmates and is the second state in the nation to implement this type of program. It costs roughly $250,000 dollars a year, without a single tax dollar. The program is paid for by donations to the nonprofit organization led by Grove Norwood, Heart of Texas Foundation: http://heartoftexasfoundation.org/.
This program goes way beyond the encouragement of Jesus to visit those in prison! I thank God for men like Grove Norwood, David Schultz, John Cain and many others whose passion for prison “seminary” education is being used by God to transform lives in time, for eternity!