Inside a Virginia prison, a group of incarcerated men are learning what it means to take responsibility for themselves and others.
The Prison Fellowship Academy® is our most intensive in-prison program. It aims to replace prisoners' negative thoughts and values, that lead to crime and incarceration, with a more positive, biblically grounded worldview that results in safer communities and prisons. The program has six core values that help facilitate that transformation:
Prisoners typically live in an antisocial environment behind bars. But we've found that when they are introduced to a prosocial, Gospel-centered culture that embraces these values, even those with the most hardened persona can change from the inside out. Wesley* is a great example of the change that's possible in Christ.
THE VALUE OF RESPONSIBILITY
Wesley was arrested for very serious crimes in Virginia. As a result, he's been incarcerated for more than three decades. But these days Wesley is participating in the Academy class at St. Brides Correctional Center in Virginia.
At St. Brides, Academy participants reside in their own unit during the program, so that they can practice living out the Academy values in a community setting. Wesley serves as the coordinator for the dorm. His efforts and leadership of other prisoners help the program run like a well-oiled machined.
"He takes his job seriously," says Mike "Coach" Dunavant, Academy program manager at St. Brides. "Wesley makes sure everything is ready for class each day. He makes sure the guys have their books and the technology is ready to go. He runs the office. … It's a big job, but he's got a system that he's developed to make things run smoothly."
The Academy is a safe space for men and women like Wesley to practice taking ownership of their actions. "Participants doing what they ought to do is the one big core value that makes this community work," Mike explains.
This year, the St. Brides Academy community gave out awards to their peers who exemplified each of the Academy's core values. Wesley organized all the other awards, but unbeknownst to him, his classmates unanimously selected him to receive the Responsibility Award. It was a sign of how far he's come from the man he used to be.
In his past, Wesley was responsible for inflicting a lot of pain and harm on his community outside prison; when he was denied parole, the Parole Board noted the severity of his crimes and the danger he posed to others. Now he is responsible in the most positive sense of the word, and he is a tremendous boon to his community—facilitating the transformation of others!
CHANGING FOR GOOD
Prison Fellowship believes we have a responsibility to put what we've learned about life transformation in more than 40 years of prison ministry to good use. That's why we invest so much of our time and effort in the Academy program.
Right now, there are more than 3,000 incarcerated men and women participating in the Academy across the country. Like Wesley, these people are taking responsibility for their actions and working hard to change their thinking and behavior. And because of God's grace and the work of dedicated Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers, we're seeing lives change for good.
*Wesley's name has been changed to protect his privacy.
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