"I wanted to change. I just didn't know where to start."
This is a common refrain for many behind bars. In a restricted community where corrosive influences abound, change isn't just challenging—it can seem nearly impossible.
Through the Academy, Prison Fellowship partners with departments of corrections to walk men and women through a holistic transformation process, uprooting past ways of thinking and helping each prisoner embrace their God-given potential. It’s out with the old, as they say, and in with the biblical framework that the Academy emphasizes through the lens of six core values:
The goal of the Academy is to help prisoners become good citizens in the communities they live in today and the communities many will return to tomorrow. As they live out new values, Academy participants and graduates have a positive influence on their peers and communities, as one woman experienced inside a Nebraska prison.
'I wanted to change. I just didn't know where to start.'
THE VALUE OF INTEGRITY
The Academy benefits its students, and indirectly improves the environment for prisoners and staff who work in the facility. Jennifer*, a resident at Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW), is not enrolled in the Academy, but even so, the influence of the core values has touched her life. One day she left an item of clothing in the bathroom after showering. When she realized it was missing, she searched but found nothing.
Jennifer works hard for her state pay. Her family is unable to support her financially, and she earns what she can to afford the basics, like clothing, hygiene products, or food from the prison commissary. Urgently she asked the staff, janitors, and residents of the housing unit for help locating the item, but it looked like a lost cause.
The following week, the Academy class at NCCW focused on the value of integrity. Afterward, the woman who had taken Jennifer's clothing returned it, apologized for her wrongdoing, and took full ownership of her actions. The two women reconciled. Jennifer was so touched that she eagerly shared the story with Prison Fellowship staff.
Academy Manager Danielle Wilson said, "This Academy member not only exemplified the core value of integrity, but she also did her part in restoring the relationship."
EMBRACING CHANGE INSIDE AND OUT
Men and women in the Academy have opportunities to recognize how their own past thinking and behaviors have made an impact on others and themselves. Beyond identifying old habits to let go of, they learn new behaviors to replace them. By practicing values like integrity in a supportive community setting, participants begin to prioritize actions over words, and new habits add up to a long-term character transformation.
Too often, in prison, it's easy to set far-off goals: Someday I'll break that habit. Someday I'll develop life skills. Someday I'll start living up to my potential. In the Prison Fellowship Academy, "someday" begins today. And it starts with values that, when embraced, can have an enduring influence for communities inside and outside of prison.