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Correctional Inmates Earn Degrees in Christian Ministry

In June, a group of students were honored in an off-campus commencement ceremony, being conferred with degrees from a neighboring educational institution. But unlike many pandemic-era distance learning arrangements, these students were not doing their learning from home. On the contrary, these men were residents of Statesville Correctional Center. But despite their institutional disadvantages, they earned master’s degrees in Christian Ministry and Restorative Arts from North Park University in nearby Chicago.

Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom is the former dean of faculty at North Park, and says she helped start the program because most Statesville inmates have never had access to quality education. The Statesville Restorative Arts program examines Biblical theology and history, but also includes courses on trauma, race relations, nonviolent communication, conflict transformation, restorative practices, and transformative justice.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx was in attendance as the commencement speaker, and praised the graduates for their initiative. She said, “We achieve our highest calling as a community when those who have the least among us are leading the charge to get us there.”

Perhaps the best summary of the program’s significance was uttered by one of its participants, Jamal Bakr: "Our potential is not defined by our worst mistakes. Let today's event be an example of what happens when opportunities are created, potentials are unignored and complete restoration is always the aim of justice."

Possible Preaching Angle:

No one is beyond God's redemption. Even those who've done wrong can still find roles to participate in God's service.

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