Scott Moore didn’t think he’d shake the lieutenant governor’s hand when he woke up in his cell at Stateville Correctional Center Wednesday morning.
Moore is one of 40 inmates embarking on a degree program in the School of Restorative Arts, which North Park Theological Seminary is running at the state prison.
Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, Illinois Department of Correction Director John Baldwin and others who said the inmates could become a force for change within the prison and outside its walls urged them on to success during a ceremony Wednesday.
“I’m ready for that,” Moore, 41, said after the ceremony. “This program today really reinforced that.”
Moore said he wants to help others through counseling, especially those experiencing drug addiction.
“My brother was an addict,” Moore said. “I picked up a bottle of his pills, and that started me on the path that led me here.”
The program at Stateville is modeled after one started in 1996 at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
Burl Cain, the warden at Angola who started the program, now is chief executive of Global Prison Seminaries Foundation. The program is used in 15 states.
Cain said research has shown the program is successful in changing prison culture and is especially helpful for long-term inmates.
“What you want them to be is mentors to other prisoners who are having problems,” Cain said. “We teach long-term inmates to be agents of change throughout the prison system.”
David Denson, 54, is serving a life term, but said he has faith God will help him get out so he can counsel people outside of prison as well as inside.
“I want to be more sufficient in my mentoring in Stateville, and I’m looking forward to counseling out there,” he said.
Denson said he is involved in ministry with other “Christian brothers” at Stateville.
“We try to be watchtowers,” he said. “We try to hear if someone is losing their mom or if something drastic is happening, and we try to help them out.”
The program is nondenominational, although the students get a Masters of Arts in Christian Ministry.
“We take anybody from any background,” said David Kersten, dean at North Park Theological Seminary. “You don’t have to be Christian.”
Baldwin told the students the program will help them be ready for unexpected moments when someone needs their help.
“I have faith,” he said, “that you will do a sensational job.”