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Prison students move forward in Christ, education

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NASHVILLE — Around 70 carefully chosen convicts continued Christian college classes during a convocation last week.

Prison officials and inmates assembled Aug. 21 to mark the start of the N.C. Field Minister Program’s third year at Nash Correctional Institution.

Former Washington Redskins’ Hall of Fame head coach and current NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs founded Game Plan for Life. The nonprofit organization coordinates funding for the field minister program.

Gibbs told the gathered inmates he admired their willingness to take on the hard task of not only college studies but putting their faith in God, according to a press release issued by the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

“We serve an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God of second chances,” Gibbs said. “You need to finish strong. The end game is not here on earth. The clock is ticking on the game of life.”

The program is a four-year, college-level educational program allowing qualified and screened long-term prisoners to earn a Bachelor of Arts in pastoral ministry degree, with a secondary emphasis in counseling and psychology.

As a keynote speaker, State Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks told the crowd he recognized the importance of providing hope via educational opportunities to offenders.

“For those of you who have boldly stepped forward to participate in this extraordinary program, I salute you,” Hooks said. “You are being educated and trained to provide peer support and counseling to others in difficult moments. You have a great opportunity to make a lasting and positive impact on the lives you touch and perhaps generations of families as offenders return to communities.”

This degree is the same accredited program offered by the College at Southeastern, the undergraduate school of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary of Wake Forest.

College instructors travel to Nash Correctional Institution to teach on site classes.

After earning a degree, offenders will assume jobs as field ministers within the state prison system, supporting the existing staff of chaplains and providing ministerial and counseling services to fellow offenders, said Jerry Higgins, communications officer for the state’s public safety department.

The program is a partnership between the N.C. Department of Public Safety, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the nonprofit ministry Game Plan for Life.

Nash Correctional Institution houses 650 male inmates in a medium-security environment, according to information from the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Prisons.