On May 12, 2023, inmates at the Varner Unit who were enrolled in the Arkansas Department of Corrections Prison Seminary Program reached a milestone, they became the first group of inmates to graduate the program. Eighteen inmates earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian studies.
This program is part of the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, which launched the Arkansas Prison Initiative in 2019. Over the last 4 years the program has been in place at Varner, these men have studied the Old and New Testaments. They have also received extensive training in biblical counseling. Inmates must go through a selection process for the program. Part of the qualifications include having a high school diploma/GED and they must be on and remain on good behavior status.
The graduates stated it was “one of the best feelings” they have ever felt and it gave them “a sense of accomplishment” to walk across the stage in front of family, friends and staff. With their degrees, they can now apply to the ADC Field Ministry Program that will allow them to minister to other inmates across the state of Arkansas.
During the ceremony, the class and staff honored the family of Robert A. Neal, who was a member of their class. Mr. Neal passed away before he could complete the program, but the class and staff wanted the family to know that he was with them during the ceremony.