The Heart of Texas Foundation

Making TEXAS Prison History: Our 4-Year Accredited Seminary

Texans Have Done It!
THE 4-YEAR PRISON SEMINARY IN TEXAS
A CAMPUS OF SOUTHWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

by
Susan Strickland

On April 1, 2010, Grove met with Dr. Paige Patterson–President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary–for a Bible College & Seminary Initiative to establish a 4-year accredited seminary inside Texas prisons. The model for such an initiative is already in place in the state of Louisiana.

A nationally accredited four-year Bible college, operated by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, exists within the walls of Louisiana’s Angola Prison. A maximum-security prison–with the infamous distinction as the bloodiest prison in America and home to 5,000 of the worst felons in the country–is about the last place one would expect to find a Bible college. But that is exactly where one is. And lives there are being transformed.

The credit for this transformation lies, in great part, with Warden Burl Cain who brought moral responsibility and rehabilitation to a place others had written off as hopeless.

Billions of dollars are spent on corrections in this country, but the recidivism rate for released prisoners is almost 73 percent. The focus in most prisons has been on education and vocation. Little funding is spent on changing hearts.

Moral rehabilitation, claims Warden Cain, is the only true rehabilitation there is. “I can get you education. I can get you to read and write. But if I don’t change you morally, you don’t change morally; you’re still a criminal.”

The Bible college at Angola is not easy, and the workload is heavy. The average sentence at Angola is 93 years, and most prisoners will die there. But for those who have graduated from the Bible college inside the prison walls, their rehabilitation has become a reality. They graduate and become prison ministers throughout the sprawling 18,000-acre compound.

Warden Cain explains that these prisoners come to a realization that God is in control of their lives and, that while God can and will forgive them, there are still consequences for their behaviors. “They just admit themselves,” Cain says, “to God’s will.”

While violence has not been eradicated from Angola, the culture of the prison has begun to change. When Bible students began to mingle with other inmates, the prison reports that inmate violence is down 40 percent, and attacks against guards are also down.

Other prisoners tend to look at an inmate minister as one of their own. They are more receptive to the Christian message because they look at the minister and know he is in here with them. This has proven to be more effective than if some stranger comes in from the outside and tries to minister to them.

“The Bible college here is a miracle story,” says North American Mission Board Chaplain Robert Toney. “It has brought tremendous hope to the prison population. Inmates can graduate with a B.A. degree in religion, a legitimate degree. They can go to LSU or anywhere they want to go and build on that degree.”

While many skeptics might question the authenticity of changed lives in prison, Reverend John Robson of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary explains that a Christian inmate here cannot get away with hypocrisy. The inmates live together. They are being observed 24 hours a day by each other.

Now Angola is transferring some of the 90 school graduates, two-by-two, to Louisiana satellite prisons on two-year missions. It’s the first and only program of its kind.

On August 22, 2011, our first Freshman Class began their Seminary training, at our own Darrington Seminary, in Rosharon, Texas– in the midst of the Darrington Maximum-Security Penitentiary in Rosharon, Texas.  Some are calling it a miracle.  The 40 freshmen inmates are calling it “A New Hope.”

BELOW: View the CBN network special report about both Angola’s Bible College and the Warden’s “Children’s Day with Dad in Prison.”


Read about some of our current projects!

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The vision is for a new step in Texas History: We’re praying and working toward the goal of the first four-year fully-accredited Bible College in a Texas Penitentiary.  Like they did at the Louisiana State Penitentiary over 15 years ago!

The first to do it was the Warden at “Angola,” the largest– and most brutal– maximum security penitentiary in the United States– officially known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  And at the invitation of the Warden and his staff, we spent a few days there earlier this year.  We saw the effects of Warden Burl Cain’s remarkable four-year, on-campus Bible College. It is provided and funded by a tri-partnership with the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Of course, it had to have support at the highest levels of state government, including the Governor’s office.  This unprecedented program awards a full 4-year degree from a fully-accredited seminary to inmates who complete the requirements. So far, over 200 men have graduated from the Bible College and become pastors and ministers to the inmate population. They minister not only in Angola prison but also in other facilities, because many are transferred to other facilities.

The success of the 4-year Bible College at Angola has been widely publicized.  A PBS Special was done.  Television interviews have been held.  See the impact of the Bible College by reading some in the following articles!  For example, here are some comments on remarks made by Dr. Charles Kelley, President of New Orleand Baptist Theological Seminary, in his annual address to the Board of Trustees, in 2005:

Kelley showed a portion of the Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly report on Angola which aired on PBS stations across the country in 2004.

According to the PBS report, inmate violence at the prison has decreased by 40 percent since the NOBTS [New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary] program started at Angola. Attacks against guards declined significantly as well.

The most important change at Angola, however, has come in the lives of individual inmates. Men who were sent to prison for heinous crimes are coming to faith in Christ. Several men shared powerful testimonies of their salvation during PBS interviews.

Because of the NOBTS training program at Angola, qualified inmates now have the opportunity to earn an accredited bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry. Newly trained graduates are sent to different areas of Angola’s sprawling 18,000 acre complex to minister to their fellow inmates. The results have been dramatic. Each of the last two years, these inmate-ministers led more than 80 prisoners to faith in Christ.

The PBS report also highlighted the inmate-missionary program initiated by Burl Cain, a Southern Baptist layman and warden at Angola. Some graduates of the NOBTS program can transfer to other Louisiana prisons to serve as inmate-missionaries. (read the entire article….)

READ THESE ARTICLES ON THE SUCCESS OF THE ANGOLA 4-YEAR BIBLE COLLEGE

HOWZ ABOUT TEXAS, WARDEN?  Stunned at what we saw, we asked Warden Cain if he would help Heart of Texas Foundation begin initiatives to start such a seminary in Texas.  He instantly agreed.  He said, “Yes, I will help you.”  During a meeting that went to twilight in his office, we drew up a “flight plan.”  When Grove and the team came back to Texas from Angola, he began to put that plan into action.  Obviously, this idea will have to have support from the highest levels in our great state.  For that we are praying!  You will be reading more about this historic Texas  initiative in future newsletters and here on the web site. As we’re able to share details, we will.    For now, here’s a clip you will enjoy that describes the Bible College in Angola.

SEE VIDEOS ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF THE ANGOLA BIBLE COLLEGE, AND MORAL REHABILIATION AT ANGOLA.