NEW ORLEANS – For casual and competitive “Jeopardy!” fans alike, it’s not unusual to know at least a few of correct questions to the show’s answers. (Note: Jeopardy! poses statements or answers, and contestants respond with questions like “What is…?” or “Who is…?”)
Some are easier than others. And for the really difficult questions, usually featured in “Final Jeopardy,” the show gives contestants a few extra seconds to respond, accompanied by the famous Jeopardy! theme song. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bzap-Kso67M).
Rarely, though, can Jeopardy! viewers claim to be, at least in part, the subject of a question. But that’s what Jeopardy! fans with ties to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) experienced Dec. 7.
An answer read, “Prisoners at Angola in this Southern state can study for degrees at a Baptist seminary.”
The correct response was, “What is Louisiana?”
Images of the NOBTS nod on Jeopardy! subsequently spread through the seminary’s social media network, highlighting the NOBTS undergraduate program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
NOBTS launched the Angola extension center in 1995 at the urging of Angola warden Burl Cain and inmates there who desired more extensive training. In January 2000, the first four-year degree graduation service was held at the penitentiary, once known as the nation’s bloodiest prison. Inmates may earn either associate’s or bachelor’s degrees from Leavell College of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At any given time, there are about 100 inmates studying in the NOBTS Angola extension center.
In the years since that 2000 graduation, graduates from the Angola program have gone on to be official ministers to other inmates. In addition, Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates are sent to other state prisons as “missionaries,” serving two-year stints before returning to Angola.
The success of the NOBTS education program at Angola has been widely documented over the years. The connections between the seminary’s extension program and the dramatic drop in prison violence have been featured in USA Today, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, a number of radio and television reports and even a documentary titled “A New Hope.” The PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” featured New Orleans Seminary’s Angola extension in a March 2004 episode.
NOBTS isn’t the only Southern Baptist seminary training inmates. In 2011, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary launched a program at Darrington Prison in Rosharon, Texas, modeled in large part on the NOBTS Angola extension.
Due to the success of the Angola extension center program (especially its role in reducing prison violence), other prisons across the Southeast have reached out to New Orleans Baptist Seminary to start similar programs. NOBTS now oversees educational programs at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman and at Phillips State Prison in Buford, Ga.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley called the seminary’s prison programs a true miracle.
“What God has done in and through our inmate ministry training programs defies description,” Kelley said. “It is a miracle of moral rehabilitation, demonstrating that Jesus has the power to work in any life. It is encouraging to see that word of what is happening is seeping into the popular culture.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)