IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) – Nearly two-dozen inmates are now Calvin College students.
The college held a convocation ceremony inside the Handlon Correctional Facility Friday morning for the Calvin Prison Initiative’s inaugural class of 20 inmates.
The new program is the first in Michigan to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in ministry leadership for inmates. The inmates take classes in ministry and theology as well as Calvin’s liberal arts core courses.
Inmates from any of the 31 prisons in the Michigan Department of Corrections system can apply to the program; students who are accepted are then transferred to Handlon in August.
Friday’s convocation ceremony included a few speakers from Calvin College along with Dewayne Burton, the warden of Handlon Correctional Facility, and Heidi Washington, the director of the MDOC.
The inmates celebrated their second chance in a video in which they talked about how they didn’t want to be defined from their mistakes.
“We all want our lives to count for something. Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary has made it possible for inmates to do just that, to make our lives count for something,” said Raymond Potts, one of the inmates participating in the program.
The presentation also included songs from the Handlon Tabernacle Choir.
Burton said the program will be an asset to his facility.
“What I hope to do is use the Calvin prisoners as change agents and leaders,” Burton said.
“A person who has six certifications in auto mechanics that they acquired in prison, to show them that they have a gift and provide a different perspective, I think it’s a great win,” he added.
He also said it the program will benefit society.
“Over 90 percent of prisoners eventually come home. Do you want them to come home with a skill in hand, as a better person or do you want them to be your next-door neighbor, the same person they were before they came in, where they’re breaking into your home, breaking into your car? When they come out now, they’re not breaking into our homes and cars. There’s a lot of positives and you don’t want them to come out worse than when they went in,” explained Burton.
Officials with Calvin said they hope to add 20 students to the program each year.