MOUNT OLIVE, W.Va. (WOAY) – Gov. Jim Justice encouraged a group of 21 prison inmates to “make goodness happen” Tuesday as they became the first to graduate from the Mount Olive Bible College.
The inmates earned four-year, Bachelor of Arts degrees in Bible/Theology and Pastoral Ministry through the MOBC. It began at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex in September 2014. An extension campus of Appalachian Bible College, like that Raleigh County institution MOBC is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission.
Justice shared a story of faith from his own life with the commencement audience, which included inmate family members. He then praised the graduates for “the impact that they’re having on all the other inmates here, the culture of their communities, their families.”
“Deliver the message that is in you today. Make goodness happen,” the governor said. “You can do it. You’ve already done it…You’ve made us all, families and all, really proud.”
Justice is the first sitting governor to visit West Virginia’s sole maximum security prison since 1996, corrections officials said. He shook hands with each graduating inmate following his remarks in the Mount Olive gym.
The college program is designed for inmates serving life or long-term sentences; only about a fourth of the inaugural class is eligible for parole or release. As Justice observed, graduates are called to counsel and encourage other inmates and assist prison chaplains with their ministries and services.
The Mount Olive Bible College is inspired by the college course at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, which has been credited with reducing violence there. MOBC involves no taxpayer dollars or other public funds. Catalyst Ministries, which works with West Virginia inmates, covers its costs.
Catalyst Ministries founder and President Calvin Sutphin II recounted the challenges to starting the Mount Olive program. He had predicted that its success would depend largely on “students who would have to function at a high academic standard, equal to their peers across the United States, with less resources.”
“Gentlemen, you rose, with not the same luxuries as many, you rose and you met that high academic standard,” Sutphin said. “You’re pioneers, you’re the first. You’ve chartered a course for many to follow. And over the last four and a half years, I’m telling you, gentlemen, with many eyes on you for different reasons, you became an inspiration to us all.”
Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy and Commissioner Betsy Jividen of the department’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation also addressed the graduates. They and Appalachian Bible College officials have discussed establishing an internship at Western Regional Jail, which is hosting a new substance abuse pilot program for inmates.
“Given the success we’re seeing with this program at Mount Olive, we hope to enlist their support as we carry out Gov. Justice’s all-out campaign against substance abuse,” Sandy said.
Other DMAPS and Division leadership attended the ceremony as well. Appalachian Bible College President Daniel Anderson delivered the commencement address, and was joined by faculty from his college as well as the school’s Jubilate Handbell Choir and Magnify Music Team. Also on hand were the program’s current inmates; this year’s enrollment has been its largest with 41 full-time students.