AUSTIN (KXAN) – On Monday, 33 Texas inmates traded their prison garb for graduation caps and gowns, and the Holy Bible at Texas’ maximum security Darrington Unit.
They were the second graduating class in the prison to receive a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School since the program was created six years ago by the state.
“God has transformed some really bad people into some really amazing people,” Dr. Benjamin Phillips, Director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School said. “Men in prison listen best to those who have walked in their shoes, who know what their life is like and live it along side of them, and whose lives have transformed already.”
Dr. Phillips said in order to be allowed into the program the inmates must be serving a lengthy sentence and promise to spend six years working with other inmates at prisons across the state of Texas.
“God has transformed some really bad people into some really amazing people,” Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said. “They will all pay their dues to society, they will all pay their sentences, many of them serving life long sentences.”
Patrick said this is not a “get out of jail free card” for the inmates. They still have to serve their full sentence.
“I wasn’t a believer, I wasn’t a Christian,” Warren Craig Bishop II, a graduate of the seminary program said on Monday. “I was a complete sinner. I was a murderer, a thief, a crook, everything.”
Bishop said for the first time since entering the Darrington Prison Unit in 1997, he finally feels like he has done something right.
“Coming to know Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, I’ve seen how through reading the Bible,” Bishop said, “that he has forgiven me for all of that.”
Patrick said the program allows people like Bishop to be classified as more than just the crime they committed.
“It’s a tough road,” Bishop said, “but it’s a glorious one to go down.”
Texas has the largest prison population in the country with about 147,000 prisoners. Texas is also the second state in the nation to implement this type of program.
It costs roughly $250,000 dollars a year, without a single tax dollar. The program is paid for by donations to the nonprofit organization, Heart of Texas Foundation.