A unique class of Illinois students received master’s degrees last month before their jubilant and crying families.
- Most were held at Stateville Correctional Center, where they studied Christian ministry and restorative arts by North Park University.
- The inaugural class became the first of its kind in the state.
Why is this important: The program has the potential to help incarcerated people become a source of healing, teaching and crime prevention inside and outside of correctional facilities.
The backstory: Dean of North Park Faculty Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom launched the program to provide higher theological education to the “most invisible, those most affected by intersecting social ills – poverty, racism, abuse”. Most of the students had never had access to a quality education, she tells Axios.
The context: The restorative arts are “the theological study of personal healing and societal transformation,” says Vickie Reddy, associate director at Axios.
- In addition to biblical studies, theology, and history, the curriculum includes courses in trauma, race relations, nonviolent communication, conflict transformation, restorative practices, and transformative justice.
By the numbers: The free four-year program is currently offered in Stateville to 80 incarcerated men and 20 women at Logan Correctional Center.
What they say : “What North Park University has understood with this program is that we achieve our highest calling as a community when those who have the fewest of us lead the charge to get us there,” said the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. said at graduation.
- “We are interconnected. We are each other.”
The big picture: This means that “our potential is not defined by our worst mistakes,” graduate Jamal Bakr said at the ceremony.
- “Let today’s event be an example of what happens when opportunities are created, potentials are not ignored, and full restoration is always the goal of justice.”
And after: Axios spoke with some of the graduates about gun violence, bond reform, generational trauma, and the corrections system.
- We will be presenting these discussions throughout the summer.