- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

UNION SPRINGS, Ala. (AP) — Anthony Murphy is one of 53 inmates at the state prison in Bullock County who received a diploma or degree from the faith-based curriculum available at the south Alabama lockup. He earned his master’s in Christian education, while fellow scholar Roy McCaig, serving a 15-year sentence for rape, earned his doctorate in biblical studies.

“This is the best thing my name has ever done,” said Murphy, 45, who has served 11 years of his life sentence on a rape and sodomy conviction.

“It’s renewed my mind,” said McCaig, who figures he may get to hear “Dr. McCaig” once in a while.

The inmates said they were especially honored to have Attorney General Troy King briefly speak at the ceremony. Mr. King told the prisoners that he admired their work to find light “in a place of so much darkness.”

The multi-degree program offered at the prison is organized by Correctional Chaplain Stephen Walker, who arranges faith-based studies offered by Southern seminaries for inmates seeking his services. The degrees are valid, he said, though they are not always from accredited institutions.

Murphy’s master’s is from Liberty Theological Seminary International in Montgomery, Ala., which also bestowed the biblical knowledge diplomas. McCaig’s doctorate is from Gulf Coast Bible Institute in Mobile, Ala.

The programs — ranging from basic Catholic studies to advanced degrees in Christian counseling — are funded by donations, while Mr. Walker and the nonprofit Alabama Prison Ministries coordinate volunteer teachers to help with inmates’ studies. The prison also offers studies in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and other faiths. The Islamic studies commencement is set for January.

While the degrees are a tangible accomplishment, the chaplain’s main concern is that the inmates learn structure and responsibility so they don’t have to return.

“An inmate doing something positive is an inmate that’s not going to cause trouble,” said Mr. Walker, who established the program in 1990.

Since the first graduation ceremony in 1993, Mr. Walker has handed seminary diplomas and degrees to 188 inmates — 83 of those have been released from prison and 10 of those have returned. That recidivism rate of about 12 percent compares with the 33 percent rate of return for all inmates released from Alabama’s prisons.

Joshua Robinson, who received his diploma in biblical knowledge, was an inmate Mr. Walker hoped would never come back. Robinson, 45, is serving his fourth prison sentence after a long history of theft and parole violations. “I’ve come a long ways, if you only knew me before,” he said.

He believes the fourth time’s a charm, that his faith will keep him out of prison once he finishes his three-year sentence.

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