MCTC inmates inspired to graduate from theological program

October 25, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN ? Applause, hoots and shouts of "Jose!" came from the sea of denim workshirts as 19-year-old Jose Andrade took the podium at the Maryland Correctional Training Center chapel Thursday night.

Andrade, who is serving a five-year sentence for an accessory to murder conviction, was among 15 inmates who received a "Certificate in Biblical Studies" through a Covenant Theological Seminary program taught, in part, by fellow inmates who had earned their Master of Divinity degrees within prison walls.

Each inmate chose one of 24 verses they had committed to memory during the course to recite and discuss. Andrade quoted Paul in the book of Romans: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes."

"When I first started, I was ashamed to bring the Word to someone else, 'cause I didn't really know what I was talking about," Andrade said.


Now, after months of study, memorization and discussion, Andrade said he has a new perspective on his life and a newfound confidence to spread his faith.

It's an important trait behind prison walls, according to the Rev. John Bayles, a Rockville, Md., pastor who makes regular trips to the prison to teach in the certificate program and a longer, more in-depth "Prison to Pulpit" training program.

"I've seen a maturity come to these men in the responsibility they've been given ... being on the front line of a situation where they have to defend their faith," Bayles said.

The program is voluntary, and inmates get no special benefits from participating, state correctional services spokesman Mark Vernarelli said. Still, many said they found a sense of spiritual enrichment from the studies, not to mention a sense of personal fulfillment from committing to something from start to finish.

Bayles used the graduation ceremony to preach about peace and love, explaining that the kind of peace that comes from within, through God's love, is available in even the most difficult circumstances.

That's the essential message Bayles said he has tried to pass on to his students, and that he hopes they will spread to others throughout the institution.

For the three inmates who served as certificate program mentors after earning their master's degrees in 2006, Bayles' goal is already being realized.

"They've seen the fruits of their labor, not just in a degree sitting in their room," Bayles said. "They've had the opportunity to serve in a pastoral role to some of the other guys."

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