During his August 2022 installation Mass as bishop of Winona-Rochester, MN, Bishop Robert Barron made reference to an interview with Johnny Cash, during which he was asked why he performed in prisons. Cash responded by citing two reasons. First, he said, in prisoners he found his most enthusiastic audiences. Second, he was a Christian.

Johnny Cash at Folsom State Prison ((Jim Marshall/Jim Marshall Photography LLC /Reel Art Press)

Why do professors at Hope College and Western Theological Seminary teach college courses to men at Muskegon Correctional Facility? In part, it’s because the students of the Hope-Western Prison Education Program are a VERY enthusiastic audience. While our regard for our students on our main campus in Holland is nearly boundless, our incarcerated HWPEP students in Muskegon are incredibly dedicated to their intellectual, social, and spiritual formation. While HWPEP is as rigorous as the B.A. degree program on the main campus, we have to be careful about how much work we assign our incarcerated students, for whatever we assign will be diligently and faithfully engaged. By each student. Every time.

Why do professors at Hope College and Western Theological Seminary teach college courses to men at Muskegon Correctional Facility? In part, it’s because we’re Christians. Teaching our students there requires that we visit them there. And visiting the imprisoned is Good News — for them and for us.

Why do we teach in prison? Just ask Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash performs at San Quentin Prison

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