(adjective) worthy of attention; striking.
Room B-104 is located in Muskegon Correctional Facility’s school building. It is the home of the Hope-Western Prison Education Program.
Remarkable things happen there.
Technically this column should be retitled “Remarkable Stories from LTA 1 and 2.” Prison officials reassigned the Hope-Western Prison Education Program to new digs at Muskegon Correctional Facility. New rooms, same remarkable stories…
During the Summer II 2022 academic term the Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 students have been learning, studying, discussing, writing, and growing together for the past month as they engage their First Year Seminar course. Their engagement with authors such as Martin Luther King Jr, Samuel Wells, James Davidson Hunter, Parker Palmer, and the biblical authors of 1 Samuel and Jeremiah are helping form their imaginations for how faith, leadership, and service intersect. Having engaged this intersection, what do they have to say about their college education? Here are a few excerpts from a recent writing assignment:
There are times when I feel overwhelmed and stressed out, but I believe my experiences are an investment in my future!
This has been a life-changing event in my life. It has had its challenges but I am so grateful for this opportunity. It is my hope that all men who get this opportunity will give their all to this exciting journey.
My college education has meant to me that I am worthy. It has meant that I can be productive in an environment that by its very design is intended to produce failure. My college education has freed my mind in ways I could never have imagined.
Hope College and Western Theological Seminary have changed my perspective, expectations, and my life. The professors have exposed me to a lot of thought-provoking information that has broken the levy of locked potential within me. I am experiencing the best time of my life.
On Wednesday, January 12 the Hope College men’s basketball team defeated arch-rival Calvin University, 78-65. The next morning we walked into B-104 at Muskegon Correctional Facility for the first day of English 113: Expository Writing. How were we greeted by 12 incarcerated men?
Just another day of Hope students supporting their college.
On Wednesday, September 22, 2021 Hope-Western Prison Education professors and teaching assistants re-entered Muskegon Correctional Facility for the first time in nearly two years. Our team walked across the prison yard, entered the school building, made its way down the hallway, and crossed the threshold of Room B-104 to the enthusiastic – even joyful – exclamations of the HWPEP students. Handshakes and warm greetings were shared all around. It felt like a family reunion.
The two-hour session began with a worship service organized by WTS student Miranda Craig. Professor Pam Bush taught the students a short prayer of praise and thanksgiving in sung Hebrew. And then each student reflected on how his learning has been impacted by the pandemic, and how he was feeling about beginning the journey toward his Bachelor’s degree. Here is a sampling of what the students had to say:
The clear bookbag you gave us is like carrying the Olympic torch!
When I saw the news that the program was approved I thought “All is right is with the world. Let’s go!”
Six months ago I didn’t know where my life was or where it was going. Now I’m invigorated.
I can’t wait to call my mother to tell her I learned how to pray in Hebrew.
It feels good to be loved. I’m so happy you’re back.
We’re trailblazers. We’re all involved in serving our community in some way. We’re plowing the field. We’re all supporting each other and pulling each other along.
Our assignments kept us going through COVID. HWPEP is like a purifying fire.
During the summer of 2021 the COVID pandemic forced the Michigan Department of Corrections to close prisons to visitors, volunteers, and everyone else who did not absolutely have to come to the prison. This forced the HWPEP leadership to get creative with ways to keep its students intellectually engaged (to say nothing of spiritually encouraged). We settled on the idea of a book club. We sent each student two books with instructions for how to organize and run a book discussion.
We also asked the students to send us feedback on each book and the process they engaged in thinking together about the texts. We received many inspired and inspiring reports. Here’s an example:
“Many of us [in the HWPEP] are searching for our own kind of freedom. Some of us may never again step foot outside a prison setting. Yet, we have all still made the choice to act on our hopes and dreams, wherever this journey leads us. And for me, that’s a special kind of freedom – the ability and willingness to choose something other than the life I’ve known.”
Asked for his impressions about tackling Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in only one week, a student responded “I didn’t understand it at all the first time I read it. The second time was equally difficult. I mean, it was like reading a foreign language. The third time I began to see some of the elements of Aristotle’s philosophy beginning to gel. Now that I’ve read it four times I can see how his ideas connect to Augustine, Aquinas, and Plato.”
All of his classmates nodded in agreement, as if they too had read Aristotle four times in one week.