For the last 20 years, the Willow Creek Association has presented the Global Leadership Summit, a two-day event that brings together leaders from both the business and church spheres. This year the event was broadcast via satellite to over 300 venues around the world – including three locations not often considered for their leadership potential.
For the first time, the Global Leadership Summit was broadcast to inmates in three prisons in the United States – Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana; The Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas; and Folsom State Prison in Folsom, California. Prison Fellowship and the Willow Creek Association worked together to provide the inmates in these facilities with the live broadcast.
At first blush, it might seem an odd decision to broadcast a leadership seminar to an audience that is by its very nature not likely to have much an impact on society. Many of those listening from prison are still months or years away from release. Some, including most of those watching from Angola, are never going to see the world outside the prison walls again.
So, why broadcast lectures on leadership to prisoners? For starters, 97 percent of the current prison population will, at some point, return to the larger society. Many of these men and women will return to a world vastly different from the one they left at the beginning of their sentences. There will be pressure to return to their old lifestyles, old acquaintances, and old habits. By providing a vision for future success, their inclinations to return their past lives can be diminished, replaced by a vision for what they can do and the changes they can make.
In his opening address, summit organizer Pastor Bill Hybels referenced Nelson Mandela, who emerged from prison with a renewed vision to bring about change in his South African homeland. But Prison Fellowship has seen many other stories of transformation on a somewhat smaller scale. These men and women have become leaders for their families, business owners and valued employees, and agents of change for their communities.
But even for those inmates who will never leave their current surroundings, there is value in leadership training. Hybels also mentioned Burl Cain, the warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and a Prison Fellowship Ministries board member. Through Warden Cain’s efforts to transform what had become known as the “bloodies prison in America,” violent events have been reduced by roughly 85 percent since his arrival. About 400 inmates attend worship services in the prison every week, and a full-fledged seminary program has been introduced. While the men who watched the Global Leadership Summit might not get the chance to impact the world beyond the prison walls, they will continue to have a chance to impact their fellow inmates.
The pictures below are from the Global Leadership Summit simulcast in the Carol Vance Unit in Texas. (Click to Enlarge)