John Wade leads the prison ministry for La Croix United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau, MO and is also a professor of Criminal Justice at Southeast Missouri State University. Over the last three years, the GLS has been impacting the lives of inmates at Southeast Correctional Center in Missouri, and the results are incredible. Below, John shares more about the research, showing the outcomes the GLS is having in prison.
“Fear can hold you in prison. Hope can set you free.”
The truth of this quote from Shawshank Redemption is evident in the men at the maximum security Southeast Correctional Center (SECC) in Charleston, Missouri attending the Global Leadership Summit (GLS}. Here’s how we know that.
First, just a little background. In planning the 2015 GLS, the La Croix UMC prison ministry team, prison staff and the inmates agreed that to be effective, it had to be more than just two days of teaching. Two follow-up sessions in November and February reaffirmed the teachings and worked through how knowledge becomes change. Inmates, hungry for more, requested homework to facilitate applying what they’d learned.
As homework, the men were to watch a DVD of Pastor Bill Hybels’ 2010 message “From Here to There” in the prison’s Learning Center. After viewing the DVD, each answered five open-ended discussion/essay questions and then brought their homework to the February follow-up session.
In the teaching “Here to There”, Pastor Hybels explained the important role of leaders in moving people from “here” which is the status quo, the organization’s present state, to “there” which is a preferred future for a person or an organization. Questions specifically asked participants to provide a description of both “here” inside a maximum security institution and what the institution would look like if it were transformed to “there”.
Here’s what the University of Mississippi team analyzing the responses found. For offenders, ”here” refers to imprisonment, the prison’s volatile and sometimes brutal, unrelenting culture without support of family, friends and fellow inmates. Most participants described “here” with feelings of negativity, hate, suffering, fear and selfishness which are feelings that contributed to or aggravated their imprisonment. A few specific responses:
“For us, here is Hell. Prison is Hell on earth.”
“Without the VIC (Volunteers in Corrections), without GLS, here is normal. The violence and taking advantage of others is what we know, how we lived.
“Here is the place where God desires us to grow and mature from, to a place where we can be in life.”
Most SECC participants are discontented with the worldly culture of prison and envision a more spiritual “there” whether remaining behind bars or working toward release and reentry into society. Participants struggled with what “there” would look like. Many desired a leader who created a vision of what “there” looks like and believed this would be accomplished through faith in Christ. Here’s some of the responses:
“There’s a place without racial lines, where we are a team, where we work together and encourage one another.”
“I don’t know. This is my status quo. Guess I need to start painting myself a picture of sumthin’ different.”
Pastor Hybels also addressed how some will be reluctant to leave “here” and leaders must convince them to leave the status quo for a vision of something better. SECC participants responded to this reluctance within the prison. Offenders resistant to leave “here” were described as lacking hope or vision, refusing to challenge themselves to move to a better place, or being content to remain in their anger. Belief and faith played an important role for participants in their strategies to reach and motivate those reluctant to leave
”Fear, although we try not to show it. Most men in here are afraid to change.”
“I’m not proud of who I am. Most of us want to change who we are. We’re just not willing to suffer or hurt enough to get there. It’s kinda like quitting drugs.”
An unexpected benefit of the “Here to There” homework was the impact to participants’ own leadership skills. Southeast Missouri State University’s Criminal Justice team compared the leadership inventory pretest before the 2015 GLS to the post test following the February follow-up Participants showed significant improvement in three general items and in 22 specific items:
- Personal Strengths and Confidence as a Leader – 12 specific items
- Perception of What Makes a Good Leader – 5 specific items
- Leading Others in Your Community – 5 specific items
Prior to the 2015 GLS, many participants admittedly lacked leadership confidence. Others lacked insight on how to grow as a leader or how to contribute. These men have given voice to their dissatisfaction with the ‘here” of prison life and have begun the process of envisioning a different “there”. Through their witness, their growth has empowered them to recruit others to participate in future Summits.
SECC participants desire personal as well as cultural change: in their words 0 we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Participants want to personally change, to better lead their families at home and other inmates in work assignments and to lead the change to a more positive prison culture which more closely resembles the Kingdom of God. The GLS definitely is equipping participants to identify and navigate from “here to there”.
University of Mississippi Criminal Justice Research Team: Dr. Linda Keena, Britt and Bo Ummels, graduate students.
Southeast Missouri State University Criminal Justice Research Team: Dr. John Wade, Dr. Michelle Kilburn, Dr. Raleigh Blasdell, and Callie Booker, Graduate Assistant.