Growing up in the United States, there is a common belief that the very nature of prison itself is so awful that it would inspire in criminals a conviction never to return, and therefore to stay on the “straight and narrow.” This perspective, though, doesn’t account for the reality that numerous factors – education, access to jobs, a stable family life, and a sense of purpose – impact recidivism (the rate at which people return to prison). In fact, a sense of purpose – faith – may be the most important among these factors that influence change. And faith is something that can develop inside prison walls.

Walking through the gates that separate R.J. Donovan State Prison from the rest of the world, it’s difficult not to imagine what it would be like to come into this place knowing that you wouldn’t be coming back out. This is the reality for the majority of the inmates I met on my visit to the prison with The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI.) TUMI facilitates a seminary class for interested inmates that teaches coursework on spiritual disciplines, and I was invited with a group of colleagues to catch up with these inmates on their work. I was not prepared for what I encountered there. FULL REPORT