Timothy P. Flynn
The iconic rock quarry at Angola prison in Louisiana; time that you just don't want to do. For the lifers grinding it out at Angola, a former slave plantation, hope was in scarce supply; then came the Southern Baptist Bible College.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary has implemented a voluntary educational program with private funding to provide a college degree to inmates doing a dime or more in the joint. The program has met with success according to Burl Cain, Angola's warden for the past 18-years; he says the bible college has calmed his institution down.
This is a really good idea and it is taking root. Whether the calming effect comes from the good graces of God, or because it simply provides lifers with something constructive to do, there is a net gain to the prison community.
The program has caught on, with similar programs sprouting-up in Texas, California, Georgia and Mississippi. Because the bible college program at Angola is voluntary and run by private donations, it has passed muster with the ACLU, which has shut down similar programs based on the use of state money to promote religion.
In profiling this program for last Sunday's NYT, one assistant pastor and lifer was asked about the other inmates who despised him because of his religious devotion and implicit cooperation with the prison authorities. He said, "If I can help other people while I'm marching to the grave, then I'll have lived a good life."
Those words have to give us pause. We folks out here in "the world" should be mindful of this inmate's standard of goodness: keeping hope alive against all odds.