MORAL REHABILITATION: CREATING HOPE AND PURPOSE WITHIN THE PRISONS OF WEST VIRGINIA
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
When a person’s heart changes, their behavior changes. We modeled our work after the successful, evidenced-based transformation that has and continues to take place at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola prison. Once known as America’s bloodiest prison, Angola is known today as one of America’s safest. “We can educate, train, and teach trades and skills, but without the moral component, without a change in their hearts, we are just making smarter criminals,” Burl Cain, Former Angola Warden, and Founder/CEO Global Prison Seminaries Foundation.
What makes the Catalyst approach so different from anything that has been done in Penal history in America?
Three core elements:
A Bible College: Men are trained and equipped to serve.
Peer Mentors: Bible College graduates are “sent out” as missionaries to other West Virginia Prisons. They are commissioned to go and serve others.
Inmate lead congregations: Men shepherd their flocks.
So that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work
(2 Timothy 3:17).
The Catalyst model includes a four-year accredited education through our academic partner, Appalachian Bible College. The prison college (Mt. Olive Bible College) is located at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex (MOCC), Mt. Olive, WV. Graduates of Mt. Olive Bible College receive a Bachelor of Arts in Bible/Theology and Pastoral Ministry. As the students embark on four years of study, we begin to witness a change in their worldview. We observe layer after layer of pain and hopelessness begin to peel away.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Upon graduating and having experienced their own moral transformation, the men become “peer mentors,” then they are given opportunities to apply what they have learned. Some of the peer mentors will remain at Mt. Olive prison while others will be transferred as missionary groups of two or three to other West Virginia prisons to serve. We have found that an inmate will respect and listen to another inmate before they will outside volunteers and in many situations prison staff. The men are excited to help others find redemption, hope, and purpose. The peer mentors will serve in roles focusing on a person’s physical, educational, social, emotional, moral, and spiritual well-being. The graduates work hard to create a positive culture change within the prison. A culture that will produce less violence, reduced drug, contraband use, and criminal activity, etcetera. They will cultivate a culture where inmates are encouraged to participate in the many opportunities to become a better person, to take ownership in something positive.
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve (1 Peter 5:2).
Throughout the student's Bible college experience, they are challenged to find their calling. How is God speaking to you? What is He saying? Where is He leading you? We witness men rise to the call of the ministry. Most of the prisons of West Virginia house over 600 men. This translates to their community, and just like any free-world community, there are congregations. A church serves as the moral agent of the community; the prison community is no different, other than the pastoral leadership is inmates.