The cover story of the Autumn 2011 issue of In Trust has been garnering a lot of buzz. Emilie Babcox's article, "Maximum-Security Seminary," reveals that theological education is taking place in two of America's more notorious prisons -- Sing Sing in New York and the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola (site of the memoir Dead Man Walking and the Susan Sarandon movie based on it).
In my opinion, both students and faculty emerge as heroes in Babcox's article. The faculty of New York Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary teach under bothersome circumstances -- they have to appear "on gate" early, submit to searches, carry only a limited number of supplies, and submit book lists ahead of time for approval.
Yet the students themselves are even more remarkable. Many have transferred from minimum- or medium-security facilities to a maximum-security prison just to engage in theological education. Many have no hope of release. Many give up privileges like family visits in order to study full-time.
Providing education off-site is always a board issue, but a prison program truly demands careful board attention. The risks are significant, and prison education doesn't bring in tuition dollars. But for the New York and New Orleans seminaries, prison education has become part of their mission.
If you haven't yet read "Maximum-Security Seminary," you can find it here.