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Effective Compassion: Teach a man to fish - S3.E6


WORLD Radio - Effective Compassion: Teach a man to fish - S3.E6

College programs behind bars help train prisoners to live life on the outside

Graduation at Mount Olive Bible College. Photo by Karisa Clark

In 2014, John Rinehart took a new job as a professor at Appalachian Bible College, A-B-C for short. He and his wife, Staci, said goodbye to their home in Wisconsin and moved to West Virginia with a quiver full of kids.

STACI RINEHART: When we moved here, we had nine. Now we have 10.

Staci homeschooled their children. John taught at the college. The same year John arrived, A-B-C opened an extension campus at a nearby prison, Mount Olive Correctional Complex. And the prison needed an English teacher.

JOHN: Well, that’s not me. But my wife has taught English.

The Rineharts decided to visit. After an hour in the car, they arrived at Mount Olive in Fayette County, a maximum security prison for men.

STACI: So we drove up and I was very nervous, actually. And I think that’s what really gave me a compassion when we drove into the parking lot and I saw the prison walls, and the barbed wire. And realized how serious this was.

Two weeks later, Staci taught her first English class to inmates enrolled in Mount Olive Bible College. Soon, John began teaching there, too. Western Civ and Church History. They poured their time, energy, and love into students behind bars.

STACI: These men, who cares for them? Their families have forsaken them, most of them. Friends, they don’t have any except for behind the walls now, you know? People forget when you’re behind the wall.

The Rineharts haven’t forgotten. They, along with other teachers, professors, and mentors are educating and training inmates at Mount Olive. Equipping them with skills to use behind bars … and when they get out.

From WORLD Radio and the creative team that brings you The World and Everything in It, this is Effective Compassion. I’m Jenny Rough.

Support Effective Compassion today at wng.org/donate. Additional support comes from World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization working to deliver food and Bibles to starving, persecuted Christians in North Korea, one of the most dangerous nations for Christians. A gift of $20 sends a Bible and a week's worth of food to a North Korean brother or sister. More at worldhelp.net/podcast/.

Appalachian Bible College

Appalachian Bible College Photo by Jenny Rough

Dan Anderson is the president of Appalachian Bible College. Back in 2013, he noticed an unexpected meeting on his calendar. One with Jim Rubenstein. The then-corrections commissioner of Mount Olive prison.

DAN ANDERSON: I didn’t know he'd made the appointment. And so, my assistant said, “You got a call today from the commissioner. He wants to see you.” And I seriously said this, “Am I going to prison? What’s happening?”

A-B-C had had a little bit of interaction with the prison in the past. Every December, A-B-C’s choir put on a Christmas concert there.

AUDIO: ABC Choir singing “O Holy Night.”

But that’s not why the corrections commissioner had come. He arrived on a horribly rainy day.

ANDERSON: He was drenched like a wet duck when he got in here. Sits down. … And then, with no pretense, no introduction … ‘cause he didn’t say what he was coming from. He just simply says, “Would you start a Bible college in our prison system?” I mean, I’ll never forget the one liner. I mean, it wasn’t on our long-range plan or anything we’d ever talked about doing.

Nevertheless, Anderson quickly got on board. A year later, the prison program held its first class.

Dan Anderson is president of Appalachian Bible College.

Dan Anderson is president of Appalachian Bible College. Photo by Karisa Clark

A-B-C’s extension campus at Mount Olive isn’t the first prison bible college in the nation. That opened in 1996 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. You heard a little bit about the man who started it in Episode 1.

ANDERSON: Burl Cain was his name, and he was a gentleman … who was asked to become the warden of Angola, which is the largest federal maximum-security prison, 7,000 inmates there. And had the record of being the most violent of all of them. Multiple murders a year would take place in this location.

For over two decades, Cain worked to successfully transform Angola through various rehabilitation programs.

G Block at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

G Block at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Photo by Jenny Rough

In 2020, Cain took a new job as the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Last year, I met up with him at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, just outside Jackson.

OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR: Hey, your podcast lady is here. … She’s over here in the lobby of the superintendent’s building.

Cain lives on prison grounds. He says he plans to bring the same transformation to the Mississippi prisons that he made in Angola. Starting with fried eggs.

BURL CAIN: We get up at 5 or 5:30. We eat breakfast. Now, here’s what’s important. We need to have a good breakfast. … We have fried eggs three times a week.

When Cain first arrived at the Mississippi prison, he says the food was terrible. Frozen processed meals that were reheated. So right away, he fired the food contractor. He wanted more fresh foods served.

CAIN: I had the inmates tell me, “I haven’t had a fried egg in 24 years.” I said, “Why 24 years?” He said, “Because I’ve been here 24 years.” … Because they fed them the cheapest they could, and that’s not what we should do. We should feed them well and good like we eat on the street. Now here’s why: I’m trying to make prison normal. If I get prison normal, then I have an environment where I can really transition you back into the community safely.

Feeding the body is a good start. Just as important: Feeding the mind with education and training.

CAIN: Now I cannot transition you back without having a skill or a trade. Because if I let you out the gate and you can’t get a job, you’re going to rob somebody to get a grub steak.

Cain gives each inmate an aptitude test.

CAIN: We’re going to give you a test like the military and it’s going to tell us what you need to be, not what you want to be.

When a person has a record, it’s not easy to find a job. That’s why Cain says it’s important to equip inmates with unique skills.

CAIN: For instance. There’s a need for women welders. Women can really weld good. Women also can drive a forklift good. Maybe they can’t drive a car as good, but they can drive a forklift. And so anyway, We’re going to have a forklift driving school for women, we’re going to have welding for women that have a propensity to do that. … Basic education. GEDs for sure. … So with that done, you have a skill that you can do something when you get out that’s not sweep the floor. You’re employable. The people on the outside will hire you to drive a truck or to be a mechanic, be a welder … but they won’t hire you to be a broom, sweep the floor, because you’re an ex-convict. But if you have a really good skill, they don’t care. They want to make money.

A wooden church carved by an inmate at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

A wooden church carved by an inmate at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Photo by Jenny Rough

The Mississippi prison also has a carpentry program. In the lobby of the superintendent’s building, three beautiful miniature wooden churches were displayed on a fireplace mantel. And it just so happened that the inmate who made them held the lobby door open for me when I walked in. His name is James.

JAMES: I started out in the carpenter’s shop making little churches for people. And what I did is I started donating them … for all these churches that are coming around for services out here. What I did is I made it for them.

James has white hair and wears a state-issued prison uniform: green and white striped pants with a starched white shirt. That color—green stripes—means he’s a trustee inmate. He’s proven himself trustworthy and has more responsibility—and freedom—than inmates in black stripe or red stripe uniforms. He also wears a mask with two Bible verse references scrawled on the front: John 3:30 and Colossians 3:23.

JAMES: He must increase; I must decrease. And whatever you do, do heartily for the Lord as—not working for man.

Welding and carpentry are two vocational options for inmates.

A third one involves animals. When Cain walked me out into the prison yard, I met a dog. Not a guard dog. Not a drug-sniffing dog. A service dog.


CEDRIC: Valentine, sit! Good girl. Visit.

ROUGH: Is this an English lab? No, okay.

Cedric and Valentine.

Cedric and Valentine.

Valentine is a golden lab. And Cedric, one of the inmates, is her handler. He’s learning the art of dog training.

ROUGH: So where will Valentine go?

CEDRIC: She’ll go to a disabled veteran or an autistic child.

Valentine had been with a foster family, and now Cedric is giving her remedial training—correcting some bad behaviors she picked up.

ROUGH: You’re a good girl!

Food for the body. Education and training for the mind. But that’s still not enough for rehabilitation. The soul needs to be nourished, too. That’s how hearts change.

CAIN: Moral people don’t rape, pilfer, and steal. Immoral people do. Moral people don’t steal your lawn mower, immoral people take what they want. They’re selfish. That’s who a convict is, an inmate is, he’s selfish. He thinks of himself, does what he wants, self-indulges. That is what a criminal is. So to change that it takes morality. We can do the high school diploma. We can do the skills and trade. But if we don’t do the heart, if we don’t change his moral thinking, we just made a smarter criminal.

Giving a person purpose is a step toward healing.

CAIN: We have to give him a purpose in life. Those things give him hope, but it’s more than that. It shows we have hope for him, that we think one day he might get out and we got to be prepared for that. And so if we do that then we morally change him.

Cain says prison Bible colleges have proven successful in bringing about moral rehabilitation. The one in Mississippi is called a seminary, which can sometimes mean grad school. But here, the term means a 4-year undergraduate degree.

The inmates who graduate from the program are trained in counseling. Or to be a pastor who plants churches—right on prison grounds. When Cain left Angola, the prison had 28 churches, of many kinds of religious groups. Most of them Christian.

Central Mississippi Correctional Facility houses men, women, and youth all on the same grounds. Beth Masters heads up the seminary program for women.

BETH MASTERS: The criteria to be in seminary is to have a high school degree or equivalency. … You have to take the Experiencing God Bible study.

That’s a 13-week course designed to gauge a student’s interest before committing to four years.

The inmates don’t pay for the degree. An outside seminary, Bible college, or adoptive church provides the funds to cover the costs.

MASTERS: We supply all the school supplies, all the books, everything they need.

Help the inmates reach the finish line.

MASTERS: But in the other side of that, we're going to ask that you invest somehow within the community.

In other words, before the inmates take their skills out into the world, they first use those skills to give back to the prison community. Tutor other inmates. Hold small groups or Bible studies. Or:

MASTERS: We’re getting an opportunity to take some of our trustee classified ladies in class up to our red and whites—

Red and white striped pants—

MASTERS: —which is cellblock closed custody. Behaviorally, making really bad choices. … So the warden is allowing us to take a few of the trustee ladies from class once a week to spend an hour or two hours in those zones.

For a one-on-one conversation with a seminary student.

MASTERS: What I’ve witnessed with my own eyes is that someone wearing striped pants ministers much more effectively to someone wearing striped pants than I ever will.

That approach brings up another criteria for the program: Only inmates who are serving 10 years or longer on their sentence can even apply.

The morning I visited, Masters brought together four seminary students to talk around a metal picnic table in the prison yard. They just finished their first semester and were about to start their second.

BRIDGET: My name is Bridget, I’m 31 years old …  I ended up just getting mixed in with the wrong crowd.

KRISTEN: My name is Kristen. …  The drugs have been a problem for me since the beginning.

RACHEL: I was named from Rachel off the soap opera Another World. …  I’ve been locked up now for 20 years.

JAIME: My name is Jamie. I’m 39. I have four kids. I grew up in the system. In and out of different homes.

All four women had rough childhoods. All four are coming to terms with their crimes—which range from drug offenses to murder. And all four have been transformed by the gospel.

Bridget’s faith came alive after she was behind bars. She overheard an older lady repeating Psalm 23. The words prompted Bridget to learn more about the Lord, her shepherd.

BRIDGET: That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do seminary, so that I could get closer to Him and just watch myself grow into the person that I know that I am.

Rachel gets up every morning at 4 a.m., long before seminary classes begin.

RACHEL: I get up and I enjoy the morning when it’s quiet and no one’s around and just, that’s my time that I have with the Lord there [yeah] before everybody gets up and starts their day and stuff. Because the Lord tells you, find time to spend with Me, and my time is of the morning time.

Apparently, mornings in prison are very hectic. Here’s Bridget again:

BRIDGET: Because everybody’s trying to do the same things that you’re doing. Brush your teeth, use the bathroom you know, try to make coffee. It’s hectic when everybody is doing [fade out].

After breakfast, it’s pretty much up to the prisoners how to spend their time. Hang out in the yard. Play basketball. Pump iron. Work a job, like in the kitchen. Or pursue one of the vocational programs.

For those in seminary, the prison program is just as academically rigorous as a four-year program at a school in the “real world” — that’s what the inmates call life outside prison. Courses like apologetics, the reasoned arguments for religious doctrine. And a course on interpreting Biblical texts—

JAIME: Hermeneutics. Have mercy on our soul. Because it was one of those— [35:33] I don’t even watch T.V. shows the same anymore. [Can you capture a bit of the laughter here after she says this?]

That’s Jamie. Her life went sideways after a drug relapse.

JAIME: I had some things happen. And my niece lost her life because I decided to go get high. Anyway, I was angry. I was angry with God.

But everything changed when another inmate invited her to a Bible study.

JAIME: Next thing I know, we’re opening the Bible after lights go out. And we’re looking up at the back, okay, I’m angry today. We’d read different scriptures. I’m anxious, or upset. I’m thankful. And we’d just read scriptures with each other.

Kristen is another seminary student who got addicted to drugs. Even being in prison didn’t stop her destructive habit—at first.

KRISTEN: I wasn’t even doing right when I got here.

She kept praying for God to deliver her. Two years into serving time—

KRISTEN: God placed it on me that Kristen, if you want Me to work with you, you got to be willing.

Kristen wanted the peace and contentment she noticed in other Christian women. She continued to pray. And her desires shifted. For the first time since coming to prison, she reached a huge milestone:

KRISTEN: I had random drug screenings, passed the first drug screen I ever passed in my life.

MASTERS: That’s one of my favorite stories.

KRISTEN: Literally the first one legitimately. … I just could not pass the drug screen. And I’ve never been able to do it. And, you know, I didn’t even know basic Bible stories when I started this class and I’m learning as I go.

Today, Kristen is so different, even her daughter noticed the change—over the phone.

KRISTEN: God is moving in this place. He really is. And I’ve had a couple of other people who have struggled in addiction even here who have said, “If you can do it, something’s gotta be there.” And I’m like, “Well, let me help you.” And we’ve been sharing what we’ve been learning in class.

Life in prison isn’t easy.

KRISTEN: I can’t say that things haven’t been hard here and there.

But even though days are often hard, God sent help.

KRISTEN: And God worked it out that I got a bunkie that encourages me spiritually.

ROUGH: A bunkie? A divine appointment?

KRISTEN: Yeah, yeah.

When she gets out of prison, she wants to mentor youth battling addiction.

KRISTEN: It’s really my heart’s desire, to try to, that’s really where my heart is.

She knows exactly what she would tell them.

KRISTEN: The first thing I’d start with is God. I’ve tried every other way. Every other way in this life to get where I’m at right now. And I’ve never been able to get there. And the only thing that’s been different is that I’ve been with God this time.

Thanks to Burl Cain’s influence, prisons across the nation are following a similar path. Last episode, you heard about one in Texas.

CAIN: We have seminaries all over the country. I’ve started them and there’s probably 17, 18 states from Oregon, the most liberal state in the nation, has Corban University, has a seminary in their prison. … [35:23] So that was the key to changing prison. … There’s one of them in Wisconsin. Has a big time seminary, very successful. You see them in Texas, they’re all over the place. In New Mexico...

And, of course, West Virginia, at Mount Olive Bible College. Where John and Staci Rinehart work.

Staci Rinehart

Staci Rinehart Photo by Karisa Clark

Staci will never forget her very first day.

STACI: The only women in this massive room with all of these incarcerated men. And that was a little intimidating. I don’t know, just getting the saliva in my mouth to be able to speak, but I told them, I’m teaching English, of course, I’m not a preacher, but that I wanted to give testimony of what the Lord had done in my own life. And so I gave them my salvation story. I gave them a bit of my family history to know that God has a plan for all of us. And as long as we’re on this earth, there’s still a plan, no matter the mistakes. And I remember when I said that, this roaring “Amen” comes from all these guys. Because I know they’re behind bars but there is hope.

Staci doesn’t teach every semester. But when she does, she starts each class with a testimony of God’s faithfulness.

STACI: Or about some way that God had worked either through my Bible reading, or something, because I do believe that behind those walls, there’s a lot of negativity, and there’s just a whole unsaved world. And there are very few who really want to do the right thing, and even when you want to do the right thing, there’s pressure you know, not to tell on somebody who’s doing the wrong thing because you always have to watch your back. It’s really kind of scary.

She wanted to incorporate something else into her lessons too.

STACI: Is it possible that I could bring in candy so that when they answer questions correctly there’s a reward? That has always worked in the past when I’ve taught, and who doesn’t like candy, right? And I figured it was probably something that they didn’t get inside.

She got permission from the prison officials. If she taught something new, she would ask a question to determine comprehension. Then give the reward for a correct answer. The student inmates loved it!

Store bought candies turned into a better treat.

STACI: I started then making cookies to take instead of candy. And things kind of morphed, because I realized they really like these cookies, so then I asked everybody their favorite kind of cookie.

Her approach worked great. Students were happy and full—and responsive to the assignments.

STACI: It’s just like everybody in life, people need encouragement, they need to know they’re loved first of all and foremost, and then to just build them up in the faith [yes] and they’re no different.

Her husband, John, has a different reputation as a teacher. No candy in his classroom. But in his own way, he also encourages the students and builds their confidence and character. Rinehart remembers when he gave his first test on church history. An unhappy student, twice Rinehart’s size, and guilty of who knows what, approached him.

JOHN: And he stood up, crumpled the test, threw it on my podium and said, I quit. I’m not putting up with this.

Such tactics might work on the streets. But not in Bible College! The student started to walk away, but stopped and turned around.

JOHN: He came walking back up to me and said, “Dr. Rinehart, I have always gotten what I wanted by intimidating, and I’m trying to do that now, will you forgive me? Will you let me take the test? I need to own up to things, and I need to push through and do it.”

The student passed the class. Much later, Rinehart ran into that inmate again.

JOHN: This summer when I was there teaching personal evangelism, he was there, and talking about how I’m almost done, and that the Bible College has helped me to see this character flaw and allow the Lord to change it.

Steve Russell is the director of A-B-C-s Mount Olive Bible College division and also teaches classes. He says his approach to leading the program may not be profound, but a straightforward take seemed best:

STEVE RUSSELL: I really do see the need for presenting spiritual instruction, Biblical training, to guys that have had criminal history. If we don’t give them the tools to do differently when they get out, why do we expect them to do differently?

And unlike some of the other prison programs, inmates in the Bible College don’t have to be there. They want to be.

RUSSELL: That gives them a little bit of an initiative that you probably don’t get in some other programs.

That almost always means choosing the Bible College over other desirable programs. Mount Olive also has a dog training program to socialize service dogs. Metalworking, too.

RUSSELL: ​​There is a metalworking shop that makes all of the road signs that you see on the highways of West Virginia. … They make every license plate. … And so you can’t be in two or three of the most desirable programs all at the same time. So actually a guy has to choose between do they want to be in the Bible College, do they want to be in the dog program.

Royce and Jon are two of Russell’s students. Royce may never get out. But even if a judge won’t give him a second chance, God has.

RUSSELL: He was in the first graduating class. … The Lord has really really changed his life. … He has worked in the hospice unit. … He most recently, he has done some of the taking meals and dealing with the guys that are in lockup.

He’s also now a teaching assistant at the college. Russell introduced him to me over Zoom. He goes by Dino, a nickname he’s had since childhood.

DINO: I think it was in the second grade. The Flintstones came on T.V. I was the biggest kid in the second grade, so everybody started calling me Dino the Dinosaur. I went home and cried to my mom about it. They started calling me Dino. … It was stuck for life after that.

Dino’s faith in God came later in life.

DINO: I didn’t go to church as a child anywhere. I grew up on a farm with two parents that weren’t believers in any way, shape, or form. And personally, I didn’t either, unless I was arrested on this charge.

He was 35. He’d already been to prison before.

DINO: I didn’t want to come back and live the rest of my life in prison. …when the police catch me, I had a bunch of armed robbery charges. And I said, when the police catch me, I’m just going to stick the gun in my ear and shoot myself. But I traded the gun off the night before for cocaine.

So he used another weapon instead.

DINO: Upon my arrest, I stuck a knife through my heart…

Cut himself from the bellybutton up to the top of his breastplate.

DINO: Big old bubbles started coming out of my nose because I went into my lung and up into my heart. … I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get any air….

Thinking he was about to die, he uttered what he thought would be his final words.

DINO: And for some reason, the first words to come out of my mouth when I was laying on the side of the road, I was asking God to forgive me.

At the hospital, doctors cut off his clothes and started operating.

DINO: I woke up 11 days later. Had a tube down my throat, and I couldn’t talk, and they removed it. I remember telling the doctor, thank you for saving my life. I didn’t really want to die. I just didn’t want to live, I didn’t want to go back to prison for the rest of my life. He was an older gentleman. He said, “Sir, I’ve been a heart surgeon for 40 years.” … And he said, “Don’t thank me, thank God for every breath you take because there’s no reason for you to be alive.” … I took it to heart, you know?

He’s thanked God ever since—and means it. That night on the street when he prayed for God’s forgiveness? He meant that, too. Forgiveness for hurting himself and others.

Behind bars, he made a public confession of faith.

DINO: There was different pastors that came in each week. … And they brought a cow trough in. And I got saved and baptized there in the jail in a cow-watering trough. … I thought it was so appropriate growing up on a farm.

He was in prison for 18 years before A-B-C started its sister campus there. His favorite classes focused on the principles of interpretation.

DINO: It’s very hard to understand how one person can read a verse and interpret it this way. And another person can read a verse, and they interpret it this way, and another one, this way. … [16:18] And that’s the biggest thing I learned. All the Bible doctrines. … why they are the way they are. … And to trust God. A lot of people don’t.

His favorite passage:

DINO: Well, I love the book of Ruth. It’s kind of like poetry.

Mount Olive Bible College graduation.

Mount Olive Bible College graduation. Photo by Karisa Clark

Although he is a lifer, he’ll be leaving Mount Olive prison. He’s taken a new job as a pastor.

DINO: I just got selected to go to North Central Regional Jail. I’m going to move there. Be the first lifer to ever leave West Virginia prison to go to pastor in a jail, in a regional jail.

Jon is another inmate at Mount Olive.

JOHN: My mother was a drug addict who went to prison. My grandmother was unable to take care of me, so I went from foster home to foster home, and eventually I was adopted.

His adoptive parents divorced and his dad remarried. The family went to church on Sundays, but John never understood the point.

JOHN: Never really understood any of it. Never really cared about any of it. It was just my dad was like, let’s go to church and make Sue happy, and then we’ll go fishing.

He found success in sports.

JOHN: I went to college and played football, and I ended up catching a federal drug charge.

A pattern of selling drugs and getting locked up continued for years. He says he’s been a revolving door of bad decisions. As nutty as it may sound, his stints in prison gave him something he lost after his days as a popular football star: a sense of importance. As a drug dealer, he was needed—and known.

JOHN: I thought my life was a rap video. I thought my life was one of those gangster movies that I habitually watched. And I become somebody I’m not proud of.

When Jon expressed interest in the Bible College, his fellow inmates thought he was joking. He wasn’t.

Now, he no longer aspires to be a football star or drug dealer. His posture has completely changed.

JOHN: I put my shoes under my bed every night when I go to bed. That way, when I get up in the morning, I got to hit my knees to grab my shoes.

And while he’s down on his knees, he prays.

Today, instead of approaching him to buy drugs, people come for counseling and life advice.

JOHN: People come to me now and ask me what they should do about a situation. … They ask me, hey, man, can you help me with my, I’m signing up for college. What do you think? … And we can sit down and we can chop it up, and we can talk about things.

John graduated in December. He’ll be up for parole in 2023. If released, he plans to run his dad’s pizza business. The shop has an apartment above it. So he thinks he can make ends meet financially. He says it took him 38 years, but he’s figured out what else he wants to do: advocate for juvenile justice reform and help pastor kids.

JOHN: My passion is working with troubled youth. I want to inflict change upon the youth … because this is what they’ve got to look forward to. And I feel like I’m an authentic and genuine representative of that because I’ve been to where they’ve been. I’ve struggled. I’ve been down to where I didn’t care if I woke up in the morning.

So many kids don’t have wise counsel. No one teaching them how to navigate hard choices. They don’t have healthy relationships to follow and learn from.

JOHN: They come home, and their mom’s laying on the couch with a needle hanging out of her arm.

That reminded me of a story from Staci Rinehart, the English teacher. One day she assigned an essay: write about your hero.

STACI: You express things in writing that you may not even necessarily talk about.

A younger inmate in the class grew up in upheaval. An unwanted boy, shipped from household to household.

STACI: And when he writes to me his story, I tell John, it’s no wonder he’s there. He never had a chance to begin with. …  His hero was a drug lord. Why? Because that drug lord was the only man in his life that ever brought him anything, a stuffed animal when he came to visit his mom. So, he loved the man, for a stuffed animal. And then he writes to me in his paper that that man succumbed to his own wares. He died. So, then another man, he writes, in his paper … the man that he was idolizing is not a good-charactered individual. So, it gives me a chance to bring those two up after class, and I have to be very careful, because I know there’s a lot of racial tension in prison, but I want them to know the people that they need to emulate in life, are people who are following Jesus Christ, people who are living for the Lord. ​​

Even when Staci isn’t teaching, she stays in touch with students through letters. On one hand, she says prisoners have so little. A card or letter can make a big difference. On the other hand, she says, prisoners she’s met in the Bible College have so much.

STACI: ​​it’s amazing to me that every day I walk into this prison, and I walk past guard s who are physically free, but they’re spiritually condemned, to walk into a room where men are physically condemned, but they’re spiritually free, and you know, only Christ can do that.

The Rineharts are encouraged when they see how the Bible College contributes to a student’s transformation after prison. Just the other day they talked with a graduate who is out on parole and is now studying at West Virginia University.

STACI: And when he got out, he called us to tell us he was released, and of course, we talked to him on speakerphone for a while, and we were so happy, and he’s continuing his education in Morgantown. …. And he’s doing really well! He has not found a local church yet to make himself part of a body of believers, which I think is super important, but he does have a group of men that are helping him keep accountable.

Of course, not all prisoners will get out, but thanks to people like the Rineharts, inmates are better prepared for life on the outside if they do. Staci and John do their best to stay in touch either way. Like they do with one lifer at Mount Olive.

JOHN: Now we know him as an inmate who is never going to get out of prison, but the Lord really has touched his life. And rather than being so self-focused, he’s thinking about ways that he can be a blessing to others, both in the prison, and then even the fact that our lives have gotten to intersect. So now, you know, he’s our fellow brother.

Prisoners are not the only ones affected by their time behind bars. Most serve their time at the expense of their families. And because of the stigma associated with their loved ones’ crimes, those family members are often isolated from the type of community that can help fill the gaps, practically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Next week, we’ll return to Texas to find out how Christians are meeting the needs of prisoners’ families by sharing the hope of Jesus.

Effective Compassion is produced by the creative team at WORLD Radio. I’m Jenny Rough. Leigh Jones is the producer. Paul Butler is our technical producer, and Rich Roszel is our engineer.

Support Effective Compassion today at wng.org/donate. Additional support comes from World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization working to deliver food and Bibles to starving, persecuted Christians in North Korea, one of the most dangerous nations for Christians. A gift of $20 sends a Bible and a week's worth of food to a North Korean brother or sister. More at worldhelp.net/podcast/.

North Korea is one of the most secretive, closed-off countries in the world, but World Help has a network of trusted partners there with 20+ years of experience smuggling Bibles and other aid to believers. These partners use donations to print, ship, and secretly distribute Bibles as well as food to people who have been desperately praying for help. And since North Koreans share their Bibles with trusted family and friends, each copy impacts around five people.Click here to learn more and donate.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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