SLU extends its Jesuit mission, breaking barriers and bars, to educate

Summer exhales its final breaths these days; we revel in the heat of the sun by day and feel the chill of fall creep at the onset of night. When we make our hurried escapes from cold, air-conditioned rooms to the refreshing glow of the sun outside, our skin tingles and warms with the thrilling change of temperature. We relish this freedom from the constraining classroom.

Ironically, the classroom is where the incarcerated at the Eastern Reception and Diagnostic Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo. are experiencing a similar rejuvenation. The Theology Department at Saint Louis University recently started the College in Prison Program there, which gives these individuals opportunities to earn an associate’s degree in theology. With our Jesuit mission in mind, professors are helping inmates in the process of recovering stable societal niches.

The program has potential to cultivate bright futures. A majority of inmates that receive some kind of education while serving their time will successfully integrate into society – only a very few relapse into crime. Guards are also included in this program; since guards tend to be on the same socio-economic level as the people they watch, they equally gain greater access to better job opportunities with a degree. We act as men and women for others by not only helping some of the most neglected people on the social spectrum avoid harmful behaviors, but also by ensuring the safety of surrounding community members outside of prison.

We are taught in theology that divinity lies in love and kindness for others, an idea grounded in the sophism of shared humanity. Doctrine aside, this holds true as a maxim: we deserve kindness as human beings and we are moved by it. Theology, while based in Christian pedagogy and doctrine, introduces us to a moral compass that can gear us toward becoming kind individuals. The altruism that this program extends toward inmates can help improve the rehabilitation process that so many jails disregard or neglect; they can gain more than a degree from their time spent in these congruous and communal learning environments.

Theology shouldn’t be the only subject taught, however. The program can give more to these people, should other degrees be made available. We want to see the program expand to include other majors, permitting inmates to seek different jobs with more stable futures, post-prison.

This program embraces the notion that people deserve to transform their lives. Through that gradual process of imbibing the knowledge that we call education, we hope that released inmates will not only be rejuvenated by a vivacious sun after the cold of their long years in prison, but also empowered with a degree in hand.