The principal object of concern for the Hope-Western Prison Education Program is the educational and formational transformation of its students. College has a terrific impact on these students. The spillover effects on the non-enrolled residents of the prison and those that work at the facility are notable.

But what about traditional students who study on Hope College‘s and Western Theological Seminary‘s main campuses? How are they advantaged by a program that educates their incarcerated peers on a campus 45 minutes north of Holland? Consider the experience of these main campus students.

Will Cooke

In an effort to provide HWPEP students with positive role models that serve to expand their imaginations, Hope College student Will Cooke developed a vocational exemplar poster series. These posters tell the stories of eight formerly incarcerated college graduates who can point to how their college education has transformed their lives and provided a platform for purposeful contributions to their communities. HWPEP has offered these posters to other college-in-prison programs for use in their classrooms. Here’s what Will has to say about this experience:

It was a privilege getting to interview these gentlemen for the Hope-Western Prison Education Program. When we began, our intentions were to create a series of posters containing the stories of formerly incarcerated men who, through education, are successfully living out their vocations. I interviewed eight men who, after incarceration, went on to work in an impressive range of fields, including academia, politics, construction, social work, prison ministry and journalism. I was humbled by the stories of these men. The intensity and passion they display in living out their vocations is a wonderful thing to behold. It gave me hope while also forcing me to look at all the blessings in my own life and how much I take for granted. The interviews were edifying for me and created some friendships that I expect to last long into the future.

Before becoming involved with the prison program I had not given the reality of incarcerated life much consideration. Through talking to these men, I realized the incredible fruitfulness of investing in our prisoners through college education. It is amazing what people can do when they are treated like humans and have their own dignity affirmed. Being given an education can be such an important step in realizing your value as a person in an environment that does its best to make you forget what you are. I was amazed at the incredible results prison education has yielded; there is so much more that can be done. I am honored to have been of service and I hope that the posters will serve as a source of hope.

Sara Zallar

Sara is a third-year Master of Divinity student at WTS. Her first exposure to HWPEP was as a teaching assistant for the Hebrew course offered at Muskegon Correctional Facility by Professors Travis West and Pam Bush. She and her fellow TA — Nicole “Z” Maye — helped mark HWPEP student papers, review projects, and create videos to help the students learn grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. Sara then took on the role of intern with HWPEP in partial fulfillment of the experiential requirement for her MDiv. This role gave her access to HWPEP leadership team meetings in addition to working with Pam Bush, Amy Piescer, and Ann McKnight in both Homeroom Peer Groups and the Communicating with Courage and Compassion course. So impressed were we by Sara’s talent, drive, and commitment to HWPEP that we hired her to serve as the program’s Administrative Assistant. Sara’s own words point to the terrific impact HWPEP has on Holland-based students:

My involvement in the Hope-Western Prison Education Program has been an invaluable part of my experience as a Western Theological Seminary student. Serving as a teaching assistant in the classroom opened space for me to not only facilitate learning, but also to learn from the incarcerated students — an opportunity of reciprocity that is a gift both in life and especially ministry. Through my internship experience on the HWPEP leadership team and my encounters in Homeroom at Muskegon Correctional Facility I have been invited to explore dynamics of being community. The students at MCF — as well as my colleagues — have been models of what it means to be in community, show hospitality, be present to what is, and focus on what is most important. I often tell people how lucky I am to be what I call a “learning leader”. I am grateful for the continuous opportunities to learn and grow in the HWPEP program!

Ayden Albright

Hope College student Ayden Albright and his friends have secured recognition as an official Hope College student organization for the Hope Advocates for Prison Education (HAPE). HAPE’s mission is to “advocate for education in prison and end the prison label stigma.” Though the organization is still new, Ayden and his peers have been busy with such activities as sponsoring a presentation about HWPEP at the college’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Leadership Summit. We congratulate the HAPE leadership for its diligence in obtaining official student organization status, and we look forward to working with them on matters of mutual interest.

Kate Kalthoff and Helen Weston

Hope College Student Congress presidents Helen Weston (2022-2023) and Kate Kalthoff (2023-2024) have worked tirelessly to connect main campus student government with the HWPEP students at Muskegon Correctional Facility. Under Helen’s leadership Student Congress produced a monthly newsletter — Glimpse of Hope — that brought HWPEP students the latest in main campus news. Under Kate’s leadership Student Congress has proposed a structure for a MCF branch that would involve HWPEP students in both MCF and main campus student governance. Helen graduated in 2023 and is now a policy analyst for the Nolan Center for Justice with a focus on criminal justice initiatives. In her role she assists the center in research and advocacy efforts that pursue public safety, government accountability, and the recognition of human dignity.

Chapel Worship

Hope College and WTS students have interacted with HWPEP students through shared chapel services. Though these encountered were asynchronous and conducted via video, it was clear that the main campus students were deeply impacted by the chance to worship with their incarcerated peers. And vice-versa.

What’s Next?

Through the leadership of HWPEP Co-Director David Stubbs, WTS will soon launch a Graduate Certificate in Restorative Justice. This graduate level program offered to WTS students lays a foundation for restorative justice ministries and restorative practices in the context of the Christian faith. Students will deepen their knowledge of biblical and theological dimensions of restorative justice, restorative practices, and practical aspects of putting the gospel into action. This program is especially intended for those whose vocation has prophetic and social dimensions or whose vocation may involve work in criminal justice systems.

The Certificate Program includes taking integrated “inside-outside” classes at the Muskegon Correctional Facility, where students will learn in a classroom integrated with both “inside” students (incarcerated students in the HWPEP) and “outside” students (WTS students). Learning about restorative justice and restorative justice practices in an integrated classroom in a prison where many intersecting justice issues are present is a rare and formative opportunity.

It would be easy and understandable to think that college-in-prison is only for incarcerated students. But its impact is so much wider, positively impacting the lives of non-enrolled incarcerated peers, corrections staff, and faculty. And it turns out that providing incarcerated students with a college education is good for main campus students, too.

Join the Conversation


  1. My name is Don Mason. I was incarcerated 32 years and my first six I earned an A.S., B.A., and a master’s. The latter from a seminary at Sing Sing. Higher education in prison played a crucial role in my intellectual but also spiritual development as it dovetailed with my growing faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. Keep offering avenues of hope to the marginalized in prison. Kudos for what you are doing. I am off of parole supervision, got married in Uganda last September and I’m working and living in Michigan where I grew up. I love with my mother and serve as her primary care giver. She will be 90 soon. I tried to email Dr. David Stubb’s but it came back saying it was not delivered. Perhaps I had one letter incorrect in his email address. See my wedding on YouTube: Wedding Ceremony of Donald and Jazira.

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