Article and Media by Tyler Wright.
In August of 2014, Greenville College and the Greenville Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) launched the “Greenville College @ Greenville FCI” higher learning program. This program allows GC professors to teach eager students within the walls of the prison a wide range of classes, providing inmates with the opportunity to work towards college credit or a GED. Before 2014, professors volunteered in various capacities, but now because of the program, there is an official for-credit educational opportunity.
So far, the classes offered at the prison encompass various fields of study, from Spanish GED courses to philosophy. There are also various recreational activities offered including chess club.
GC professors who teach at the prison include Jake Amundson (Drawing), Jameson Ramirez (Anthropology), Matt Bernico (Speech), Teresa Holden (American Social Movements last year, Gender in American Politics this year), and Jessica Estevez (Intro to Business).
Though students have been involved in certain capacities in the past, most students don’t know about the program today. Despite this lack of familiarity in today’s student body, the initiative at the FCI lies at the heart of Greenville’s mission and heart for service.
The pioneer of the official program, Kent Dunnington, cites Matthew 25 in claiming, “Christians have a gospel call to care for prisoners, and there are 1500 prisoners two miles from our campus who desperately need education.” According to Dr. Richard Huston, a teacher of the Spanish GED program, Dunnington pursued that mission by urging faculty members to get involved and persuaded the administration to offer no-cost credits.
Today there is a new spirit of possibility for students at the prison, and GC and the local FCI have a unique bond because of the consistency of the program throughout the years.
Matt Bernico, who recently finished teaching a COMM 101 course at the FCI, gives an inside look at the class experience. “I’ve taught courses to undergrads and it’s all typical- they’re there but not super excited. With these guys, it’s a whole different story. These students are all older, and they’re super smart. It breaks the stereotypes of what you think a prisoner is like. They’re on board with whatever you want to do because they’re just happy you’re there to teach them something, and they want to participate in any way they can. Everything I gave them to read, they read it thoroughly, multiple times. They’re seriously great students.”
Furthermore, these classes help the prisoners presently and in the future. Bernico remarked, “A lot of the guys want to start a business when they get out of prison, so the GED program and business classes are especially useful, as well as the other courses.”
According to our scriptural call, what are we to do with such an initiative? It can be daunting to step outside the bubble of GC and into our community, especially in an unfamiliar setting. Dr. Huston listed a plethora of opportunities for students to get involved.
- GED tutoring (they have English GED classes to help inmates without a high school diploma earn one. All classes meet M-F 12:30-2:30 inside the fence and M-F 1:00-3:00 at the camp).
- ESL for Hispanic inmates who want to improve their English.
- Adult Continuing Education (same times or evenings). The topics are wide open and include whatever you have expertise or experience in (resume writing, musical instrument, parenting, conflict resolution, etc). Also, GC students can think of a topic related to a class they’ve recently taken and talk about it (public speaking, creative writing, investments, etc).
- Activity: chess, book club, etc.
- Religious Services. Saturdays 12:30-2:30 (Spanish and English). Students can preach, lead a Bible Study or lead worship.
As Christians and as college students, we have a call to go beyond the walls and out into the world. Fortunately, there are many forms of opportunities at GC to reach out. If you’d like to volunteer, email Dr. Richard Huston at firstname.lastname@example.org.