In 2021, Oklahoma Christian University began offering courses to inmates at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center with the hope of rehabilitating incarcerated women.
Mable Bassett is a medium/maximum security prison for women located in McLoud, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma holds the record for the highest number of incarcerated women in the world; however, studies show the recidivism, or reincarceration rate, drops from 58% to 0% after taking two college classes.
The H.O.P.E. Institute, which stands for “Helping Oklahoma through Prison Education,” aims to play a part in dropping the recidivism rate.
This fall, inmates are enrolled in two courses, Life of Christ: Matthew and Comp I, to further their Associate’s Program. The Associate of Science offered to inmates is identical to the curriculum offered to students on campus.
Philip Patterson, Distinguished Professor of Mass Communication and the President of the National Christian School Association, is teaching Life of Christ: Matthew. Nathan Shank, Assistant Professor of English, is teaching Comp I.
Oklahoma Christian’s Chief Academic Officer, Jeff McCormack, began the program and explained its role in the Christian mission.
“I think it’s really important to look at our mission as a Christian university. From a Biblical standpoint, we are called to go into the prisons. Jesus said ‘When you were helping me I was in prison,’” McCormack said.
The program was inspired by sister school Lipscomb University’s Inside Out curriculum, which allowed students to take classes with inmates in a prison. Due to COVID restrictions, Oklahoma Christian has yet to implement Inside Out options for its students.
McCormack said the Inside Out program impacted his daughters’ experience at Lipscomb.
“I asked her one time, ‘What is the most impactful class you ever took?’ She said, ‘Oh daddy, that’s easy. It’s Art Appreciation.’ She’s a nurse,” McCormack said. “I told her, ‘You don’t know anything about Art Appreciation.’ She said, ‘No I don’t, but I know whenever I sat with those incarcerated students, I learned about life.’”
Nathan Shank described the process of entering Mable Bassett to teach.
“To me, the whole experience of going in there is somewhat terrifying, but it’s also incredible. You go through two layers of doors with razor wire fencing and then you go into what they call ‘central’ where you get processed. It’s like security screening,” Shank said, “Then you go out into the yard. There’s a baseball and softball field, their dorms, a chapel and a few other buildings.”
Then Shank enters the education building where his class is held.
“This year, I have the key, and everyone in there is an inmate, so it’s a little intimidating. Everybody’s wearing orange or gray. The women range from their 20s to 60s,” Shank said. “It looks just like a college class, but feels more like an elementary or high school classroom. There’s bulletin boards up, math problems and textbooks everywhere.”
Shank discussed the student’s participation in his class.
“I’ll ask a question and five hands will go up. They’re always interested, always paying attention, always doing the work,” Shank said.
McCormack is hoping to incorporate other universities into the project and make Oklahoma a “top ten state.”
“The way we’re hoping to expand it is to set up the H.O.P.E. institute as a separate non-profit which could work closely with other Christian universities,” McCormack said. “Governor Stitt wants Oklahoma to be a top ten state. I want to be able to say Oklahoma is a top ten educator for incarcerated students. We can do that.”