Operation Transformation at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin is a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies program modeled after a similar program implemented in Angola, Louisiana. Angola was one of the deadliest prisons in the United States, but as a result of this program, its prison crime has dropped dramatically and it is now one of the safest prisons in the country. The program has since gained traction in Texas and now in Wisconsin.
Trinity International University professors who are teaching the Biblical Studies curriculum at Waupun, Pastor Robin Knoll and Steve Mayer, both agree that the most noticeable impact of the program is the personal and spiritual transformation that occurs for inmates. In early days of the program, a prison guard noticed a quiet group of inmates in the program and started to worry – such silence was often a sign of scheming and signaled the anticipation of violence. However, this time the silence was men in the program studying. Mr. Mayer shared, “What was once a sign of trouble, was now a sign of people gathered together in prayer.”
That was one of the first signs of transformation. “In study time they become even more connected to each other. They talk about finding a foundation in prison; something they have never had before. It’s all about God. We are just people God is using,” continued Mr. Mayer.
"What was once a sign of trouble is now a sign of people gathered together in prayer."
Like any other form of higher education, inmates must apply to the program and each class is made up of about 20 students. Christ is at the very center of everything they do, but the program itself has a holistic approach. The curriculum covers everything from Biblical literacy to pastoral care and personal wellness. These men are being equipped for life beyond the bars. Though the men are imprisoned, their relationships outside of prison are being impacted as well. Encountering the grace of God, students will say, “I now feel like I have a purpose and my family is talking to me again.”
Trinity International University’s first graduating class within the Waupun Correctional Institution is right around the corner and there is excitement among the teachers and inmates as to what comes next. The hope is for the graduates to work alongside prison chaplains because “when the chaplain goes home, prison life goes on.” So, the men are already practicing mentorship with one another while experiencing Christ’s love.
The transformation happening in the hearts of the men in the program is very apparent to Pastor Knoll, “I can see the changed lives. I can see the way God has allowed these men to connect dots and explore their lives like never before, and that’s exciting! People have started talking about how they feel different inside. They are experiencing the Holy Spirit tugging at their hearts.”