News - Greenville College Prison Program Inspires and Transforms

Greenville College Prison Program Inspires and Transforms

Dr. Kent DunningtonKent Dunnington can think of many reasons for people to volunteer at Greenville’s nearby Federal Correctional Institution (FCI Greenville), but the one that comes immediately to mind is this: “Jesus tells us to care for the prisoner, and we have 1500 prisoners not even two miles away from campus.”

Dunnington, associate professor of philosophy and religion at Greenville College, also teaches courses in ethics and logic at FCI Greenville. Last year, he was instrumental in developing a partnership that brings credit classes to the prison. So far, 39 men serving time at the facility have received academic credit for their work.

Last fall, Jake Amundson taught the first course in the newly named Greenville College Prison Program. Twenty men enrolled. This semester, Jameson Ramirez is teaching anthropology to the male population, and Teresa Holden is teaching a course in American studies to a combined class of female FCI students and GC students.

“Things are going well,” reports Dunnington. “Our classes are full, and I can hardly keep up with faculty requests to teach in the prison.” 

“Going well” from Holden’s perspective means highly engaged students coming to class “super prepared.”

“For that brief hour and 20 minutes, we create a different world where the prisoners can be their best selves and where everyone thinks well of them,” she says. “From what they have all shared, that is their whole goal, to step into being new people.” 


Prison students are quick to share how the learning experiences have changed them:

  • “The program has shown me that I can actually do college work. Where I normally would’ve been intimidated by the very word ‘college,’ now it only motivates me and excites me.”
  • “I have completed Ethics and Visual Thinking/Drawing that yielded three transferable college credits for each course . . . Whether drafting a thesis or mapping a drawing, both subjects brought the creativeness out of me, something that has become a part of me. I am inspired to attend college upon my release.”
  • “Together we mastered Logic, but most of all, through the Greenville College program, we mastered humanity, caring, and compassion for our fellow man.”

Personal transformation is a key element of Greenville College’s mission statement and part of its rich heritage educating disenfranchised persons including women, students of modest means and veterans.


“We know that education, more than anything else, lowers recidivism rates,” says Dunnington. “The national recidivism rate is around 67%. Prisoners who leave with an associate’s degree recidivate at a rate of 14%. If they leave with a bachelor’s degree, the rate drops to 6%.” 

A reduced prison population translates into taxpayer savings. Last year, Forbes reported that for every inmate who leaves the correctional system in Missouri, the state averages a savings of $25,000 per year.

Programs like GCs, however, are few. According to Forbes, a decade of “get tough on crime” policies reduced post secondary prison programs in 37 states from 350 in the 1990s to only a dozen in 2005. Those that remain are primarily volunteer efforts fueled by private funding. The federal government allocates no funds for higher education in prison.


Dunnington acknowledges that the dollars and cents realities pose a challenge. It takes $15,000 a year for GC to offer two courses each semester (including summer term) at the prison. Prisoners pay $60 for a three-credit course that includes book rental, and the College picks up the tab for transcript processing and administration. Private donations cover instructional costs.

“Of course, we are doing more than offering credits,” Dunnington explains. “We are offering and receiving the gift of presence, breaking down walls that divide.”

He and others who bring Greenville College to prisoners see that presence through the lens of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 25:26: “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Alumni and friends of Greenville College can also participate in GC’s “presence” at FCI-Greenville through giving.

This story was published on March 17, 2015

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