CHARLES COLSON HOPE AWARDS
2016 SERVANT OF HOPE HONOREE
The Charles Colson Servant of Hope award is bestowed annually on a person who has brought the message of hope, redemption, and restoration into correctional environments. Whether as a prison administrator, policymaker, or volunteer, the awardee has demonstrated servant leadership in changing the culture behind bars, making prison a place of renewal and second chances.
The Servant of Hope award goes to someone whose work in correctional environments has had an enduring, restorative impact. Perhaps no one has fulfilled that role better than Burl Cain, the legendary former warden of Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary.
Burl Cain served in the Louisiana branch of the American Farm Bureau Federation, later becoming the assistant secretary of agribusiness for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. He began serving as the warden of the Dixon Correctional Institute in 1981. Promoted to warden of Angola State Penitentiary 14 years later, Cain continued rising to the challenges of responsible leadership in corrections.
In late 2015 he retired from his role as warden of Angola, where his outstanding leadership was most notable. When he first took over at Angola, the prison, one of the bloodiest and most notorious in the country, was in dire need of transformative leadership. It would not be easy to govern one of the largest prisons in the United States, but Cain’s resolve never faltered. In 2008, he became the longest-serving, most impactful warden in Angola’s history.
Marked by his authentic devotion to the Christian faith, Cain has held strongly to his beliefs while working in corrections. His work has promoted the development of safe, humane institutions and positive, life-changing programs for men and women behind bars. He could be stern when necessary, but he did not merely force compliance to stringent rules; rather, he helped generate a culture of dignity and mutual respect. His refusal to tolerate a violent, substandard prison culture has resulted in enduring improvements at Angola.
Cain regularly reinforced the truth that all prisoners’ lives are still meaningful, even if the rest of their days would be spent behind bars. Cain facilitated a spiritual atmosphere in prison, which helped reduce violence and encouraged prisoners to turn their lives around. He often hosted visitors to observe his efforts first-hand. Moreover, he went on to establish a branch of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and garnered significant support for the program. The innovative step helped to develop faith leaders from among men who would never be released, but who nevertheless had great, untapped potential.
Often, Mr. Cain has been asked to address audiences nationwide to share his philosophy of constructive prison culture. He has consistently promoted the idea that faith changes lives, even in prison—especially in prison. That passion for rehabilitative programming has made a tangible difference behind bars. It encourages others to adopt similar methods, as well, including additional in-prison seminaries in locations across the country.
Burl Cain was nominated for this award by Reginald Wilkinson, a past president of both the American Correctional Association and the Association of State Correctional Administrators. Having worked in corrections for 43 years, Wilkinson has known Burl Cain for several decades and visited Angola on several occasions. “I have tremendous respect for his talent and ability to effect positive change,” wrote Wilkinson. For that reason, he nominated Burl Cain to receive this year’s award for the Servant of Hope
CHARLES COLSON HOPE AWARDS
The Charles Colson Hope Awards, sponsored by Prison Fellowship, recognize people who have faithfully and courageously worked to restore those affected by crime and incarceration. Charles Colson, who founded Prison Fellowship 40 years ago, was at ease with presidents, prisoners, wardens, pastors, laypeople, and legislators. In all times and places, he was a passionate advocate for incarcerated men and women, and their families, sharing his faith in the Gospel and honoring the God-given value and potential of each person. His impact on prison ministry, prison culture, and prison reform has been broad and lasting. In keeping with his inspiring legacy, the Charles Colson Hope Awards honor people who, in following his example, have been role models to others and brought restoration through their sphere of influence.