Partnership


  • The Heart of Texas Foundation
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice
  • The State of Texas Governor, Legislators, and Representatives

The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry (Heart of Texas Foundation, Inc.), founded in December 2009, exists completely independently of TDCJ and work with the highest regard for them. We exist completely independently of any federal or state entity and receive no tax dollars of any kind. We operate with the highest regard for the law which provides accommodation and protection in order that we may exist to provide services to those within the state prison system. The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry is: a.) overseen by a board of directors, b.) privately funded, c.) run daily by a Chief Executive Officer, and d.) produces regular third-party financial audits which are committed to the highest level of integrity.

The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry takes the gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkest of places in the Texas prison system through our bachelor degree program which educates men and women with long-term prison sentences. Graduates of The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry are allowed to serve their peers as Field Ministers throughout the Texas prison system.


The Heart of Texas Foundation
College of Ministry
at the Memorial Unit for Men

The education of Texas Field Ministers by The Heart of Texas Foundation began at the Memorial Unit in 2011. One class of 33-36 students has graduated every year in May since 2015. Beginning in August of 2021, The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry began offering the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry, a curriculum written by the leadership of The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry after 10 years of experience. The leadership, faculty, Memorial Field Ministers, and students of the Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry pursue the highest standards of excellence daily. The entire effort is privately funded by generous donors to The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry. Each donor knows that these men will be allowed the privileged opportunity of becoming a Field Minister.

The Heart of Texas Foundation
College of Ministry
at the Hobby Unit for Women

In August of 2021, The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry began offering the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry to the historic first class of women at the Hobby Unit for Women. The Class of 2025 was selected from women’s units from across the state. The leadership, faculty, and students of the Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry at the Hobby Unit for women pursue the highest standards of excellence daily. The entire effort is privately funded by generous donors to The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry. Each donor knows that these women will be allowed the privileged opportunity of becoming a Field Minister.


Texas Department of
Criminal Justice

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has accepted the Texas Field Ministers Program as an agency program through its Rehabilitation Programs Division (RPD). TDCJ accommodates the focus of The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry as a Christian organization, as well as, the religious component of the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry, for inmates who voluntarily apply and continue within the Texas Field Ministers Program. By allowing the Texas Field Ministers Program, TDCJ fulfill their lawful requirement to “accommodate and not merely tolerate” an inmate’s faith expression even in his or her education, whether his or her own faith is Christian or not. This accommodation allows an incarcerated man or woman to learn more about faith practices in general, by specifically studying the Christian faith included in the curriculum, whether or not his or her own faith expression, if any, is Christian. 

TDCJ accepts the Texas Field Ministers Program as one of many programs in its utilization of numerous resources, sacred and secular, to address the educational needs of the long-term prison population, a population which is historically under-resourced in most states. The men and women of the prison population with the longest sentences often view pursuing the lowest education, a GED, as futile if their lives are to be spent in prison. TDCJ’s excellence in Corrections is reflected in its willingness to accept the Texas Field Ministers Program. This outstanding option for inmates with extremely long prison sentences—an unprecedented endeavor with many positive measurable results—includes an accredited Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry with no online or correspondent component.1 Through the Texas Field Ministers Program, men and women with extremely long sentences have the opportunity to express the rehabilitation that has taken place in their lives starting in the very place where they live. Prison is the only place many men and women serving in the Texas Field Ministers Program will ever live. Can they live a rehabilitated life within the prison? Texas Field Ministers are showing us that rehabilitation goals achieved become rehabilitation goals far surpassed. Our desire at The Heart of Texas Foundation is that men and women in the Texas Field Ministers Program would live flourishing lives, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Evidence exists daily that men serving as Field Ministers have met and far surpassed the rehabilitation goals of TDCJ. While this does not change the length of their sentence or their status as men who are incarcerated, it changes entirely their quality of life inside of the prison and their influence among the inmate population.


The State of Texas Governor, Legislators, and Representatives

The state officials in Texas who were involved earliest in the establishment of Texas Field Ministers are still serving in the same roles as or in higher capacities than they were when the idea for Texas Field Ministers began ten years ago. Senator Dan Patrick (Republican) became Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Texas State Senator John Whitmire (Democrat) holds the title of Dean of the Texas Senate as its longest standing member. Senator John Whitmire also serves as Chair of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Each of them has attended every graduation and every fundraising banquet to lend his full support publicly to the Texas Field Ministers Program and to The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry as a privately funded endeavor. Each shares and champions the work of The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry and the Texas Field Ministers every appropriate opportunity he has.


  1. Jang, Sung Joon, et.al. “Prisoners Helping Prisoners Change: A Study of Inmate Field Ministers Within Texas Prisons.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 64, no. 5 (April 2020). 470-497. doi:10.1177/0306624X19872966.

Integrity

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[1]

2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV

The Heart of Texas Foundation holds the view that a man’s faith and practice is between him and his God. With the courts, we agree, there is no governing of a person’s faith.

We, at The Heart of Texas Foundation, enjoy TDCJ’s fairness, equal treatment, and uniform application of its policies. As a Christian organization providing the Texas Field Ministers Program, we entirely agree with and champion every rehabilitation goal set forth by TDCJ.

We understand and lawfully enjoy the strict neutrality on the part of the State to not champion any one religion over another or a lack of religion—a Constitutional reality and precedent set and upheld by the courts. Since men and women who are Field Ministers live in the prison, it would be impossible to separate the cost of his or her living. There are no state costs for the Texas Field Ministers Program that are used to deny or champion any one faith over another. In fact, many tax dollars are saved due to TDCJ’s careful oversight of the men and women who serve as Texas Field Ministers while they serve their fellow inmates through hospice, peacemaking, education, prayer, family events, chapel services, and as scholar-mentors among the prison population. It is essential that Texas Field Ministers be exemplary in their conduct toward TDCJ administration and correctional officers and among the prison population.

The State of Texas, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and The Heart of Texas Foundation work in full accountability to the United States Constitution in its entirety, with careful attention to the First and Fourteenth Amendments. We are aware of the two clauses of the First Amendment—the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause—and all parties take special precautions toward clear lines of respect in our distinct roles and responsibilities so that we serve and respect all people who enjoy the privileges of the United States Constitution. The Texas Field Ministers Program exists within the clear space the Constitution and courts overwhelmingly provide, and we will continue to work within that space with diligence and excellence.


Integrity on the front lines

The Heart of Texas Foundation is: a.) overseen by a board of directors, b.) privately funded, c.) run daily by a Chief Executive Officer, and d.) produces regular third-party financial reviews and audits which are committed to the highest level of integrity.


The Field Minister. “The goal of all biblical instruction is love qualified by a transformed life . . . Love for God and others should flow from a life of purity, integrity, and sincerity . . . Theological education should remain focused on effective ministry as the evidence of successful equipping.”[2]

The Field Minister maintains a visible, unashamed, humble, accountable, and incorruptible personal integrity in a place where inmate integrity is often defined by the dark network of the prison’s inmate culture. 

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Titus 2:7-8, ESV

[1] Holy Bible. English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2016. Print. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Titus 2:7-8.

[2] TheMark Bailey, “The Foundation and Shape of Theological Education” in  Theology, Church, and Ministry, ed. David Dockery (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 35-36.

History

Brief History

            
The Heart of Texas Foundation, Inc. received 501(c)3 nonprofit status in December of 2009. From the beginning, the heart of The Heart of Texas Foundation has been to serve others with the heart of Jesus Christ as we share the good news of Christ with the mind of Christ.

In 2010, The Heart of Texas Foundation, through its founder Grove Norwood, invited Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Texas State Senator and Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee John Whitmire, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Bryan Collier to tour the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola to determine whether offering a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies to inmates with extremely long prison sentences through a Bible college in Texas would be a viable endeavor for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. It was determined by this group of leaders that the answer was, “Yes.” Grove suggested, with unanimous approval from this group of leaders, that he move forward with approaching Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to provide the instruction for the degree funded completely by The Heart of Texas Foundation.

From the earliest days, The Heart of Texas Foundation’s vision for the Texas Field Ministers Program was something far more than a degree offered to men with extremely long prison sentences. That vision was of “sending” graduates to do the work they had been trained to do. But the workers and the work needed a name and a plan. As a result of multiple research interviews carried out by The Heart of Texas Foundation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Grove Norwood wrote the document, “Proposal for the Texas Prison Field Ministry Program,” and submitted it to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on October 26, 2012. The 27-page document consisted of the following 20 chapters:

Chapter 1:    Building a Best Practices Model for Inmate Field Ministry
Chapter 2:    Significance to Texas and The Prisoned States
Chapter 3:    Overview and Baselines
Chapter 4:    From Application to “Certified Field Minister”
Chapter 5:    Preparation for Field Ministry Internship Before Graduation: The Undergraduate Practicum
Chapter 6:    Preparation for Field Ministry Internship After Graduation: The SWBTS “Boot Camp” Summer 
Chapter 7:    Prescriptive Guidelines:  Dos and Don’ts
Chapter 8:    The Field Ministry Internship at a Host Prison
Chapter 9:    Which Prisons? Assignment of Graduates to Field Ministry Prisons
Chapter 10:  The Field Ministry Coordinator 
Chapter 11:  The Field Ministry Advisory Council 
Chapter 12:  The Supervising Field Ministry Chaplain
Chapter 13: The Host Warden in the Field Ministry Program
Chapter 14:  The Field Ministry “Internship” Program 
Chapter 15:  Ministry and Service Opportunity for the Certified Field Ministers After Internship Completed
Chapter 16:  Establish a “Certificate Program” in the Field Ministry Prison for the Certificate Field Minister
Chapter 17:  Supervising Chaplain’s Training
Chapter 18:  Important Questions to be Answered
Chapter 19:  Administrative Forms to Be Developed
Chapter 20:  Ongoing Professional Development: The Chaplain’s Field Ministry Academy

            The Heart of Texas Foundation carefully chose the terms “Field Minister” and “Field Ministry” to identify the heart of this work. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice accepted the Texas Field Ministers Program through the submission of the document including the terms Field Minister and Field Ministry. The document went through three more revisions before submission of the final board-approved version from The Heart of Texas Foundation to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on August 8, 2013.

            The Texas Department of Criminal Justice accepted the Texas Field Ministers Program in 2014 and created its own policy statements for Field Ministers. Everything was ready for the graduates to be appointed as Field Ministers. Two weeks after the first graduation held on May 11, 2015, the 33 graduates were appointed as the first Field Ministers and transferred to seven prisons in carefully selected teams and locations. The transition from general population inmate to student to Field Minister marks the dedication, planning, and work from the earliest days to now of The Heart of Texas Foundation with state executive and legislative officials, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice—without any of whom the quality of the Texas Field Ministers Program would not be what it is today.

In the summer of 2021, The Heart of Texas Foundation received permission from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission to operate as college in Texas. The Heart of Texas Foundation received approval from the state to do business as The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry.

On August 1, 2021, The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry at the Memorial Unit (Rosharon, TX) began with Juniors, Sophomores, and Freshman, as well as the newly recruited class of 2025 in the application and interview process all under a brand new curriculum pursuant to the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry. And for the first time in history, The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry at the Hobby Unit for women includes the first class of 30 women pursuing the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry. These men and women are being trained to become great readers of Scripture so that they can apply it to their life and ministry, thus becoming upon the completion of the degree, Texas Field Ministers.

We are committed to pursuing the highest level of accreditation recognized by the United States Department of Education because we believe it is the what the Lord is leading us to do and as a way of continued excellence for generations to come. The accreditation is a multi-step, multi-year process.


Our first project:
The Darrington Chapel Restoration

Before

The Darrington Unit Chapel restoration began in early 2011 and was complete in August 2011 so that the first Convocation could be held in the chapel to kick off the Texas Field Ministers Program.

This picture was taken at the beginning stages the chapel renovation. The chapel leaked when it rained, the pews were rotten, the floor was missing tiles, and there were no lights. No one was using the chapel. It had become unusable. The renovation was dependent on private donors because the state could no longer lawfully spend money to restore the chapel.
Once lights were restored, the first step was to remove the rotten pews.

With generous help from the faithful men and women who have served the men at the Darrington Unit for years through Kairos, The Heart of Texas Foundation’s first project was to refurbish the chapel inside the Darrington Unit.


After

Now, the chapel at Darrington is used every day, all day by a robust roster of volunteers, the Darrington chaplain, and the Field Ministers. We are grateful to be able to hold the annual Convocation and Graduation in the beautifully renovated chapel thanks to our donors.

The newly restored chapel was immediately used by the men in the Texas Field Ministers Program when they chapel was newly opened.
Field Minister John Blevins talks with Senator John Whitmire in the chapel as other Field Minsters look on.
Field Ministers Reading Acceleration Center. Field Ministers certified by The Heart of Texas Foundation as Literacy Instructors work with men at Darrington to improve their ability to read.

Vision

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14-15

Mission of The Heart of Texas Foundation:
The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry takes the gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkest of places in the Texas prison system through our bachelor degree program which educates men and women with long-term prison sentences. Graduates of the Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry are allowed to serve their peers as Field Ministers throughout the Texas prison system.



The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry and The Texas Department of Criminal Justice recognize the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry for Men at the Memorial Prison Unit and the for Women at the Hobby Prison Unit as the only degree qualifying the completion of the first step in becoming a Texas Field Minister. 

The Texas Field Minister job opportunity provides men and women who have extremely long prison sentences the opportunity to display a new way of life by faithfully handling responsibilities that flourishing people enjoy to the benefit of themselves and everyone around them, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry makes a lifelong commitment to men and women who enter the Texas Field Ministers Program and successfully keep their jobs as Field Ministers. There are currently 202 active Field Ministers in 42 locations across the state of Texas.

What Makes Us Different

              What makes The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry different?

What makes The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry unique is our curriculum and our student body and our faculty. Our bold curriculum of 42 courses in the 126-hour Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry is a consistent and fierce pursuit of the truth. Our students are men and women with extremely long prison sentences. Our faculty have the highest level of scholarship in the world, but they also have proven ministry experience—they are able to use real-world examples as they teach.

This movement to educate men and women with long-term prison sentences to serve their peers is unique in the history of prisons anywhere in the world.

Senator John Whitmire, Dean of the Texas Senate and Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee shares the uniqueness of the Texas Field Ministers Program.

The Texas Field Ministers Program Consists of Six Key Elements.

        Each of the six key elements described below, together, make the Texas Field Ministers Program unique.

L.E.T.L.A.P. = L
ifers,Equipped,Transferred,Live-in,Access,Peer to Peer

● L: Lifers and Long Sentences. Only “lifers” and inmates with extremely long sentences need apply to the Texas Field Ministers Program. We don’t want someone to earn his or her theological training and then leave the prison, when the prison desperately needs the word of God as do the inmates who live in it. We want men and women who will be Texas Field Ministers for the rest of their long sentences. What better option does a lifer have, who wants to build a new life and serve others, than to become a Field Minister while in prison?

●  E:  Education. The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry offers the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry. This degree is the only degree accepted as the qualification of the first step to becoming a Texas Field Minister. The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry entirely funds this education.

●  T:  Transferred. When a man or women with a long prison sentence applies to The Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry, he or she goes through a multi-layer, multi-step application process including an interview. Once accepted, each student is transferred to either the Memorial Unit for men or the Hobby Unit for women. Once the students complete the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry, each is allowed to become a Field Minister, appointed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He or she is transferred by TDCJ to a prison to begin service as a Field Minister. The new Field Ministers are placed in teams of two or more. With this transfer out, the new Field Minister’s entry into the mission field begins.

●  L:  Live-In. These Field Ministers, whatever their faith, take into their new prisons the education and training poured into them, and they take the gospel of Jesus Christ with them if they are Christians. And, unlike all Wardens, Chaplains, and all volunteers, the Field Ministers don’t “go home at night.” They are home! And they live in that large “village” around the clock, seven days a week. They don’t go on vacation. They don’t go home on the weekend. They live in their mission field, and most will die in that mission field. They are like any other missionaries anywhere in the world: they live with their people, they speak the same language, they dress like their people, and they indeed are culturally identical to their people. But Field Ministers take no furlough.

●  A:  Access.Field Ministers would be like any other inmates if they were not, by special permission, given access to all areas of the prison where inmates live, function, and go. While each Warden carefully monitors his or her own Field Ministers, TDCJ has officially sanctioned and encouraged Wardens to allow the Field Ministers to have access to any housing area a man or woman lives. This is where the “darkest of places” comes into view. The Field Ministers are allowed to have daily, and sometimes hourly, visits to places no volunteers can go. And Field Ministers can usually go to these places at any time of the day and also be called out during late hours of the night. Such areas include restricted housing (familiar to civilians as solitary confinement); inmates on Constant Direct Observation (CDO) for circumstances such as threat of suicide. The Field Ministers have a large impact on inmates who are totally separated from their peers because of their crimes or because they are known gang members. Field Ministers can bring comfort to inmates who are in the medical or hospice units. The Field Ministers are trained in how to preach sermons in the chapels, teach Bible studies, or counsel the grieving and depressed in their cell blocks. Such state-approved access for inmates such as Field Ministers exists nowhere in the United States. 

●  P:  Peer-to-Peer. Inside the culture of all prisons is the overwhelming influence that one inmate has over another. This peer influence is at the core of why prisons contain dark and violent cultures. That culture is usually founded upon intimidation, suspicion, retribution, extortion, violence, and hostility. The most influential inmates control every prison’s culture. And who are the inmates with the most peer influence? Typically it is those who have the longest sentences, the lifers, because they have committed the worst of crimes and have to do the longest time. They are instantly given “respect.” They are the “role models” for all the other inmates. They have the respect and the power. And of those with long sentences, the avowed gang members are the ones who bring fear into the hearts of other inmates. Their influence always sets the culture inside a prison. The prison’s culture is totally invisible to the outside visitor, to the staff, and to the volunteers. It underlies, controls, and directs all relationships inside the prison. It is not a culture of light. It is a culture of darkness. No warden, no chaplain, no volunteer can have the impact that a Field Minister has as a peer.


            Remove any one of these above, and the unique mixture of what makes the Field Ministers so effective is lost. At times, those who have seen the effectiveness of the Texas Field Ministers Program will attempt to replicate it in an “easier” way by reducing the length of the prison sentence requirements, reducing the length or standards of the education, not granting graduates the access they need to serve others, or focusing solely on education without service. Any attempt to reduce any one of the key elements in L.E.T.L.A.P. will not result in the same measure of impact seen in the Texas Field Ministers Program. It simply will not be the same thing. We believe that any attempt to replicate the Texas Field Ministers Program without the gospel of Jesus Christ will lose its impact entirely.

            Something impacted the culture of our prisons when the Texas Field Ministers arrived. The Texas Field Ministers brought new and positive “role-models” as scholar-mentors into the prison system. Inmates are stunned to find out that Field Ministers don’t intimidate; they don’t retaliate, can’t be bought, have markedly different countenances, and live their lives in total contrast to the gaming, deceit, and distrusting culture in the prison. They are not snitches; they are not spies for the warden. The Field Ministers are front-line spiritual responders, positive role-models that are unlike any the inmates have ever seen.[1]They bring into the prison a new kind of peer-influence because of the exemplary lives they live, in full view of every inmate.


[1]Kate Shellnut, “COVID–19 Shutdowns Are Shifting Seminary Education,”Christianity Today, April 23, 2020.