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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Warden calls for churches to help break cycle of criminal activity

Louisiana prison warden known for pioneering faith-based programs wants to see urban and suburban churches work in partnership to reintegrate ex-offenders into society and minister to inmates’ children.
burl cain130Burl Cain“We want to make the urban church into the agent for change it ought to be,” Burl Cain, warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, told a restorative justice ministry conference in Dallas.
Cain has seen transformation occur inside Angola—a 73 percent decline in violent incidents—since he arrived in 1995 at what was called “the nation’s bloodiest prison.”
After 14 years as warden of Louisiana’s Dixon Correctional Institute, he concluded traditional approaches in the correctional system had failed, and he committed to trying something different at Angola.
“I don’t do traditional. If it doesn’t make sense, I don’t do it,” Cain told the conference, meeting at the Texas Baptist Men’s missions equipping center.
Angola sought to give hope and purpose to inmates serving life-without-parole sentences by equipping them to serve as teachers in a wide variety of educational and vocations classes—from auto mechanics to welding, to carpentry, to culinary arts.
agola prison studies425Inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary have the opportunity to pursue seminary training through a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary extension at the nation's largest maximum security prison. (BP Photo)The programs went a long way toward changing the attitude of men serving life sentences, and the job placement rate for ex-offenders in the program rose. Still, Cain realized rehabilitation requires a change of heart.
“If you teach people skills and trades without the moral component, you just made a smarter criminal,” he said.
“You have to change the person. Criminals are selfish people. They don’t care about you or your feelings. They do what they want and take what they want. Moral people do not do that. So, the cure for that problem is the moral component, and that’s found in religion.”
Cain worked with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College to launch an extension center at the prison that offers Bible college degrees. Prisoners are required to complete the Experiencing God discipleship program as a prerequisite to the classes the seminary offers, he noted.
Angola recently received private funding for an 11,000-square-foot building that will house classes offered by the seminary, Cain reported.
Angola also built two large chapels—a “nondenominational Catholic chapel” constructed in 38 days using inmate labor and funded by donations from Mexico and a “nondenominational Protestant chapel,” he said.
But beyond worship services led by prison ministry volunteers from the free world, Angola also houses Bible college graduates who serve congregations within the prison.
“We have 27 churches in Angola with inmate preachers,” Cain said.
dads day darringont425"A Day with Dad at Darrington" hosted by The Heart of Texas Foundation. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the foundation conduct seminary courses at the unit. The next “Day with Dad” event will be Nov. 7-8. (Image / The Heart of Texas Foundation)In 2005, Angola prison worked with the AWANA ministry to launch Malachi Dads—a program to help incarcerated fathers who have experienced spiritual transformation reconnect with their children. The initiative takes its name from the Old Testament prophet’s promise God will “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”
The program focuses on breaking the cycle of criminal behavior by equipping Christian fathers in prison to leave a godly legacy to their children, Cain explained.
In Texas, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Heart of Texas Foundation launched Bible college courses at the Darrington Unit modeled after the Angola program, and Malachi Dads programs began at the Coffield Unit, with plans to expand to other prisons.
Many of the children of inmates live in urban areas, but for inner-city churches to make an impact on their lives and the lives of ex-offenders who re-enter the free world, they need suburban churches to stand alongside them to provide volunteer and financial support, Cain insisted.
“God can heal our prisons,” he said. “God can heal our communities.”

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