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December 17, 2008

Seminary graduates, peacemakers, inmates

Fourteen prisoners in South Carolina received associate of arts degrees from Columbia International University last week. Like the graduates of a similar program in Louisiana, started by Burl Cain, the warden at Angola, these men are being commissioned as peacemakers within the prison system of South Carolina. 

Their theological training will be put to work in a very practical way, as they live out their faith and advocate for nonviolence in the often tense and violence-plagued atmosphere of prison life.  By allowing the program, the state hopes to benefit by seeing lower levels of violent behavior, a hope that has already been realized in Louisiana, where 147 inmates have completed the program run by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The broad, systemic change has already begun in the lives of the fourteen men who graduated.

As the men passed [to receive their diplomas], Rebecca Rockholt of Hartsville caught her son Joseph’s eye, gave a little wave and dabbed her eyes as the tears began to fall.

“There have been a lot of prayers,” said Rockholt, accompanied by her husband, Oliver, daughter, Tammy, and niece, Heather. “It’s such a blessing.”

Joseph entered prison in 2000 a disgruntled man, but his family never gave up on him, he said.

“My mother told me this will either make you a better person or a bitter person,” he said, as he smiled and handed her his diploma. He graduated at the top of his class, with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

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