The value of teaching the Bible in prison

As a professor, my aim is to encourage students to question and interrogate their fundamental presuppositions, prejudices, and commitments, to develop the faculties of empathy and appreciation, and to investigate what it means to be a human being and to strive for a good life.

In no classroom have I seen this occur more powerfully than those at Jessup. There is something palpably at stake in that classroom, as these students confront the text with their own eyes, through their own experiences. They struggle with the implications of the choice to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, are confronted by the prophets’ condemnations of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant and their visions of social justice, and join the debate of Job and his friends over divine justice and its relation to human suffering. As they do, I witness these men building their minds, grappling with ideas that for them are not merely abstract but of the most immediate and ultimate concern. I suspect that they continue these discussions long after I leave.

From my conversations with other instructors in prison-education programs, I know that my experience is not unique. Such programs also have a profound impact on the college students who tutor and study with the inmates, presenting them with the ability to gain a deeper understanding of America’s social problems and the value of education than they would have received on their campuses alone.