Above: Bruce Perkins, OBU Prison Divinity Program director, center black robe, and OBU President Heath Thomas, center red and blue robe, take a photo with members of the inaugural class of the OBU Prison Divinity Program. Photos by Coy Cypert
SHAWNEE—Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) President Heath A. Thomas, administrators, faculty, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) officials, Oklahoma Baptists leaders and 40 inmates from the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC) recently celebrated the beginning of a new program designed to transform the lives of inmates and their families while radically improving the culture within the prisons in which they reside.
The OBU Prison Divinity Program (PDP) formally celebrated the beginning of the fall semester, Sept. 7, with an OBU Convocation service very similar in nature to the service held every fall in Raley Chapel’s Potter Auditorium on the OBU campus in Shawnee. This service, however, was held inside the prison walls at the LARC in Lexington, and the students in attendance were inmates specially selected for this first-ever, four-year bachelor’s degree to be offered inside an Oklahoma prison.
OBU launched the Prison Divinity Program in partnership with ODOC and Oklahoma Baptists to positively transform the inmate population within the Oklahoma prison system through moral rehabilitation. Based on similar programs implemented in prisons in Louisiana and Texas, the program will produce graduates who will in turn positively impact other inmates within Oklahoma’s prisons and create positive change to the cultures in those facilities.
The service featured guest speakers including Gov. Stitt; President Thomas; OBU Dean of Theology, Arts and Humanities Matthew Emerson; OBU PDP Director Bruce Perkins; and former Oklahoma State Senator Wayne Shaw, who each encouraged and inspired the students, as well as a student/inmate-led time of praise and worship.
The 40 men enrolled in the 128 credit-hour program were selected from 172 applicants and 65 interviewees. They will complete courses over a four-year period, receiving the same education in their bachelor’s degree program as students who are enrolled on the OBU campus in Shawnee. These students are likewise learning the traditions of Bison Hill and what it means to be an OBU student, including learning the famous school chant “Ka-Rip.” The program is entirely funded through the generosity of donors, support through the Oklahoma Baptists and facilities provided by ODOC.
The LARC was specifically selected as the location for the program because inmates transfer to and from this facility to other prisons around the state. Upon completion of their degrees, graduates will be sent in teams of three or four as field ministers to other prisons throughout the state system. This element of equipping and sending inmates to minister to fellow inmates is a unique educational opportunity for those incarcerated.
Gov. Stitt, who reviewed the studies on the effectiveness of moral rehabilitation programs within prisons, personally invested time and resources into the program since its inception and advocated for the program’s creation. As he delivered an inspirational greeting to the students, he encouraged them to persevere and to never give up.
“God has His hand on your lives,” he said. “There’s no telling what He is going to do for you and through you.”
Thomas recognized and thanked Governor Stitt, former Senator Shaw and ODOC Director Scott Crow for their partnership in OBU’s founding and establishing the program.
Thomas then delivered the Convocation address, telling the students, “We believe in you and that you were called for a purpose. God uses us no matter where we are or where He takes us. This is a worthy calling, a worthy mission.” Visit okbu.edu/theology/prison-divinity for more information about the Prison Divinity Program at Oklahoma Baptist University.