Category Archives: Darrington Unit

Chapel Hill Bound for First @AAIHS Meeting

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W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, Courtesy of AAIHS

I am really looking forward to attending the first conference of the African American Intellectual History Society later this week at UNC-Chapel Hill. The university is my wife’s alma mater, so it will be fun to relive some old memories there. Looking forward also to harassing some old friends over in Wake Forest at Southeastern Seminary. And I’m excited to stop in and check in with my mother and father-in-law to make sure they’re behaving.

But I am truly honored to be a member of this society and also to have the opportunity to present a paper on a panel on W. E. B. Du Bois and American history alongside three good friends with sharp minds. Phillip Luke Sinitiere, author of Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity (NYU Press, 2015) and Edward Carson, co author of Historical Thinking Skills: A Workbook for European History (Norton, 2016) are two of my co-panelists. My third co-panelist is a former student of mine, Vondre Cash, who graduated from Southwestern’s Darrington extension in 2015. While he remains incarcerated at Darrington, he is recording his presentation and I will play it for our audience when his turn comes up to present. I am really excited for him, as he joins the scholarly conversation on Du Bois. Sinitiere’s paper is entitled “Environmental Intellectual: W. E. B. Du Bois and Nature”; Carson’s is “W.E.B. Du Bois’s Editorial Influence on Negro Migration and the Western Color Line;”and Cash’s paper is entitled “Unresolved Problem of the 20th Century: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Continuing Struggle for the Social Regeneration of African Americans.”

My paper is entitled “What, Then, Is The American? Crèvecoeur and Du Bois on American Identity.” I am contrasting two views on American identity, arguing that Crèvecoeur’s view was defined by broad opportunities for material advancement (the American dream), while Du Bois’s view was informed by a generously spiritual notion of human personhood.

See information about the conference and download the conference program here. If you are in the area, please join us.

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Teaching at the Darrington Unit–A Look Back

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I wrote this post on my Facebook page on September 7, 2011, right after concluding my second week of teaching courses in Southwestern Seminary’s Darrington Unit extension. Since the first class is graduating tomorrow, I thought it would fun to have a look back on my first impressions of teaching out there.

These men have worked hard the past four years. Their average grade point average is high, but make no mistake. There are no “prison As” here. Every single man has earned his grade.

I’m very proud of these men, and I know that God will use them in wonderful ways as they minister in other prison units across the state of Texas.

Yesterday, when I was packing up my things and getting ready to depart the Darrington Unit after teaching on Alexander the Great and the rise of the Roman republic, a student in my class jokingly said to me, “I bet you never thought you’d be teaching a class full of convicts!” He was smiling broadly as he said this, and laughing. I laughed too, and replied, “To be honest with you, brother, it wasn’t the first thought that occurred to me!”

This exchange pinpoints an unstated reality that has existed in my own mind since I first drove up to the front gate at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas.

There are four checkpoints upon entering my classroom. Security officers check and hold my driver’s license, open and examine the contents of my briefcase, have me empty my pockets and take off my shoes, and physically pat me down, even checking the soles of my shoeless feet every time I enter the premises. All of us on the faculty were briefed on procedures for hostage situations, riot outbreaks, recognizing manipulation, understanding gangs, contraband, and counseling victims of sexual abuse prior to the start of the academic year.

None of this is discussed in The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career.

Still, of the thirty-nine students (the official designation is “offenders”) that are in my class, I can honestly say that every single one of them treats me with a level of respect that I have rarely encountered in twenty years of teaching and pastoral ministry. To describe their attitude about the course as enthusiastic would be slight. This is a group of students who, on the whole, are fully engaged in every aspect of the material. They react to every reading assignment—some positive, some negative—and they articulate their reasons for their reactions. They ask so many questions during the lectures that I am already behind on my course schedule—but I cannot in good conscience curtail this. Their dialogue with me during the lectures is critical to their understanding and beneficial to everyone in the classroom, including myself, in bringing clarity to the material. At the breaks, they file into a queue to ask me questions and make points. At the end of class, I spend at least an hour continuing to dialogue with them on the day’s lectures and discussions. One of my students asked if he could be allowed to write a second eight page critical book review, in addition to the one he is already writing on the Aeneid.

Not only are they in profound earnest about their studies, they are overflowing in their expressions of faith and worship of God. We conclude every prayer with a recitation of Psalm 118.17. They vociferously declare in one voice, “I shall not die, but live!” Yesterday, their voices boomed and echoed throughout the entire educational wing as we sang “My Hope is in the Lord.” What a thrill it is to be in the presence of such men.

I have never encountered an entire group of students like this anywhere I have been a student myself, or anywhere I have taught in my memory.  What a profound honor; what a unique privilege is mine, not only as a teacher, but as a human being in the position to behold God’s hand so clearly at the work of redemption in the lives of persons.

Phillip Luke Sinitiere Lectures on W. E. B. Du Bois in the Prison

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Last summer, Phillip Luke Sinitiere graciously invited me to lecture on American exceptionalism in his American religious history class. Today, I had the opportunity to return the favor. Phil was the guest lecturer today in my course on Contemporary Worldviews, a philosophy course I teach to the fourth year students who are enrolled in Southwestern’s Darrington Unit extension. These students are all serving life sentences at the maximum security state prison at Darrington, but will be placed at other units around the state of Texas to serve as inmate chaplains, counselors and teachers after they graduate.

Our first class graduates this May 9. They were the first class in the program, and I was there with them at the beginning, teaching them Western Civ I. They are a tremendous group of men, and I’m very excited for them.

I was really excited to hear Phil lecture today, one which he titled “Forging Freedom in Thought, Word, and Deed: W. E. B. Du Bois’ Life and Times.” As many of you know, Phil just completed his history of Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church (due out this October from NYU Press), but Phil is also a W. E. B. Du Bois scholar. The timing of the lecture was perfect. In many ways, I see Du Bois’ life and work as something of an encapsulation of much of what I have attempted to teach these men over the past four years. And Phil’s lecture was outstanding–he effectively communicated the significance of what Du Bois meant to the advancement of human flourishing in America and the world in his long and fruitful life.

The students were riveted as Phil opened Du Bois to the class, introducing him to us as he would a personal mentor and friend. In the first half of the lecture, Phil discussed Du Bois’ early life and career, namely his being the first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard, the formation of the NAACP, his controversy with Booker T. Washington, and his friendship with Albert Einstein.

After this first half, Phil opened the floor up for questions, and he received many thoughtful insights and questions from the students. He had provided them with a packet of readings from Du Bois last week to have read by the beginning of the class, and they were well prepared. Included in the packet were Du Bois’ “Prayers” (1910), “Credo” (1920), “The Negro and Communism” (1931), “If I Were Young Again: Reading, Writing and Real Estate” (1943), “An Appeal to the World” (1947), and “Whither Now and Why?” (1960) among several others.

One of the questions Phil received was this two-part question: how many times have you lectured on Du Bois, and what is the most challenging question Du Bois raises that you grapple with as you study him? Phil said that he has lectured on Du Bois hundreds of times, perhaps thousands if you count the many lectures he has given in his classroom teaching. But despite the number of lectures he has given on Du Bois, Phil said that he continues to grapple with this question raised in all of Du Bois’ writings over an eighty-five year period: what does it mean to be a human being, and what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?

Such a profound set of questions, and yet so simple. So simple, even a child can understand their meaning and importance, but so profound as to tax the mind of a thinker and doer such as W. E. B. Du Bois in the period of almost a century while he walked this earth. Indeed, Du Bois challenges us Christians to put our faith into practice.

In the second half of the lecture, the part dedicated to what Phil described as his “twilight of years,” Phil related some local history pertinent to the life of Du Bois. He talked about his visit to Prairie View A&M in 1945, and specifically talked about a student named Mayme Ross who assisted in hosting Dr. Du Bois when he came to speak at the school. Mayme was a junior when she served as a student host for Du Bois. Phil had recently gotten in touch with her, and was able to speak with her about her first hand experience with Du Bois. Well into her nineties when she spoke with Phil, she told him that she grew up in humble circumstances, and wasn’t sure how she’d feel around such a towering scholar as W. E. B. Du Bois when he came to the campus at Prairie View. But when she met him and interacted with him, she said she felt herself totally at ease–here was a man truly interested in her life, her ideas, her dreams, and her faith. Through Ms. Ross’ testimony, Phil gave us a window into the man W. E. B. Du Bois, and not merely the scholar.

Phil discussed many aspects of Du Bois’ life and teachings in the course of his three+ hour time with the class. Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of Du Bois’ life was the occasion of his joining the American Communist Party and his emigration to Ghana in the last years of his life. Phil masterfully put Du Bois’ decision in context, and helped us to move beyond simple explanations of that decision–a decision that Du Bois did not make hastily, or without the deepest consideration for what it would mean for him personally and professionally.

In Du Bois we see a man who grappled with what it means to be human, what it means to live in freedom and equality, and how justice is truly applied. We see a man who is concerned with what it means to be a “true American”–not in a jingoistic or boorish sense, but in the truest sense, that is, being in community with other Americans who cherish freedom, human dignity, economic and social justice, and concern for the well-being of others.

The meaning of human dignity–it is a historical issue, a theological issue, a social issue, an economic issue, a political issue, an ethical issue, and a practical issue. Through critical thinking, activism, historical and theological reflection, and love for others, Du Bois showed us what it means to truly grapple with this issue that immediately concerns us all.

Thanks Phil, for teaching us today, and for being a model for us of the man Du Bois was.

History Behind Bars: Fostering Civic Engagement in a Prison

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The following is from a presentation I gave at the 2014 Conference on Faith and History at Pepperdine University.

In 1912, John J. Eagan, owner of the American Cast Iron Pipe Company, founded the Men and Religion Forward Movement (MRFM) in Atlanta, Georgia. The Movement was dedicated to motivating churches to social action pertinent to labor, immigration, temperance, Christian unity, and prison reform issues. It was an influential voluntary organization of white mainline Protestant denominations for men oriented toward a social gospel agenda. Notable figures such as Washington Gladden, Walter Rauschenbusch, William Jennings Bryan, and Booker T. Washington spoke at the Congress of the Men and Religion Movement in April, 1912.[1] Two years earlier, Eagan became something of a mentor to a newly minted attorney fresh out of Columbia Law School named Philip Weltner. Eagan helped Weltner get named as the Chief Probation Officer of the Fulton County Children’s Court, and also helped Weltner get on the executive committee of the MRFM. Weltner had proven his worth as Eagan’s choice to head the Prison Association of Georgia from 1910 to 1911. Eagan founded this organization to help ex-convicts acclimate to society and to direct child offenders away from a life of crime. As head of the Prison Association, Weltner oversaw the creation of the first Children’s Court in Georgia devoted to rehabilitation of youth rather than punishment. And as a prominent member of the MRFM, he shared Eagan’s vision of making “the mind of Christ the rule and guide of Christian living.”[2]

The Georgia prison system was notorious for its cruelty in 1912. The lash was the officers’ preferred tool of motivation for the prisoners, hearkening back to the days of slavery. In fact, the state prison system was in some respect designed as a legal method of slavery after the war through the turn of the twentieth century. W. E. B. Du Bois wrote of the old Bolton estate, a sprawling antebellum plantation in Dougherty County, Georgia. The estate was converted into a prison camp after the war, and Du Bois wrote that “it was for many years worked by gangs of Negro convicts . . . it was a way of making Negroes work, and the question of guilt was a minor one.”[3] The Thirteenth Amendment had abolished slavery to be sure, but it excepted slavery in cases of “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”[4] Du Bois wrote, “the black folks say that only colored boys are sent to jail, and they not because they are guilty, but because the State needs criminals to eke out its income by their forced labor.”[5]

In his new position as Deputy Solicitor General of Fulton County, as a member of the MRFM, and as a Christian, Weltner decided to do something about the cruelty in Georgia’s prisons. But what could he do? While staying in a Newnan, Georgia hotel, Weltner decided to get a first-hand look at life on the inside of a prison. He wrote, “I was lying in bed, when the idea popped into mind to become a convict myself.”[6] The next day, he “turned himself in” to a member of the Campbell County Commission in the town of Fairburn. He told him that his name was John Marvel and that he was under a five year sentence for forgery. Weltner explained to the commissioner that even though his appearance before him seemed out of the ordinary, he was there “because the Prison Commission of Georgia trusted me to give myself up to him.”[7]

So Weltner posed as a prisoner in a “convict camp” in Campbell County, Georgia. He was given a striped uniform, assigned to a hard labor gang setting up telephone poles and was locked in a cage at night alone with a convicted murderer. The next morning after breakfast, as the men were loading into wagons to go off to their work sites under armed guard, the camp warden asked “John Marvel” to stay behind. After the rest of the prisoners had left, Weltner learned that his story had been investigated and found to be a fabrication. He was handed his clothes and told to get out, immediately. His story was later picked up by the New York Herald and became a national sensation. It initiated ongoing newspaper coverage of prison cruelty by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, which reported systemic brutality in the state prison system. Public demand for prison reform in Georgia, including the abolishment of the lash, ultimately resulted from Weltner’s courageous act.

This story is personally compelling to me, not only because it is a story about a man who was willing to make an enormous sacrifice to help rectify a moral outrage. It is also compelling because Philip Weltner is my great-grandfather. I was twelve years old when he died at age ninety-four, but even as a boy I knew that he was a great man and deeply admired by people rich and poor, black and white, all over Georgia.

I am currently engaged in teaching history in a fully accredited bachelor’s program with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at the Darrington maximum security prison unit in Rosharon, Texas. The Darrington unit is an official extension campus of Southwestern Seminary, and the school has enrolled 148 students in the program. The students graduate with a B.S. in Biblical Studies, and then are placed in other units within the Texas prison system to serve as inmate chaplains. The student inmates are, for the most part, never getting out of prison. But they have committed themselves to spend the rest of their lives serving others in prison. I like to think that I stand under my great-grandfather’s shadow as I play a role in their academic, spiritual, and ministerial training. Prison presents many challenges, but teaching history there has the potential to provide a basis for meaning, identity, and civic engagement for the prisoners as they exist day to day as individuals and in community with each other.

Ted V. McAllister recently wrote of the effects on the loss of place in twenty-first century America. This loss has contributed to the eroding of Americans’ exercise of civic engagement. According to McAllister, one of the aspects of the loss of place in America is the lack of a basic knowledge of history among Americans who are lost in the contemporary world that buzzes with the distractions and novelties of technology. Not only do human beings need an attachment to a physical place of birth, growth, and community. Human beings need a place in history, “the felt presence of ancestors, of inherited culture, a sense that as individuals and groups they played an important role in a story not of their making,” as McAllister said. Both physical place and place in history are threatened by our technology-fueled culture. McAllister wrote, “we have abandoned history for the ever-present now” and our break with the moral and social ballast of history “leads to a form of powerlessness.”[8]

Much of what McAllister identified in his critique of modern culture is true of the Darrington unit where I and nine other Southwestern faculty members teach. The placelessness and historylessness that McAllister warned about in American culture can also be perceived in prison.

For one thing, the prison at Darrington is a non-place, if we work with McAllister’s definition of the term and distinction between place and space. McAllister wrote that place “constrains but it also empowers.” He said that “it is important to create, preserve, and improve real places for real people . . . to find attachments, to empower them to engage meaningfully and well with neighbors toward collective purposes, and to help them understand their particular role in the larger story of humanity.”[9] In other words, place is like a cultivated garden, the product of a community living in active cooperation for the common good.

In contrast, McAllister defined space as that which lies beyond the walls of the garden, the expanse of the unknown beyond the place to which the community is tied. “Space can . . . be forbidding, mysterious, dark—the source for experiences of ennui, loss, and fear. . . . The horizon is vast, the terrain appears unchanging, time slows down as miles go by without detectable landmarks. One can easily feel insignificant, small, meaningless in such a space—a space that bears little trace of human contact and evokes no sense whatsoever of history.”[10] While prison definitely lacks the openness that McAllister described, it certainly has every conceivable aspect of the forbiddenness of a wilderness. Indeed, being in the prison gives one a sense of powerlessness, of being at the whim of the will of forces beyond one’s control, much like being in a wilderness. And in the prison, one lacks contact with the past. The changelessness inherent in the established grooves of prison life and the physical aspects of the facility gives one the sense of time standing still.

So prison is, in many ways, a non-place. It is physically ugly, institutional, somber, uniform, and (by necessity) cut off from the rest of society. Personal survival, not cultivation of a community, is the often the order of the day at Darrington. And prisoners are historyless. They have been (by necessity) sequestered from the public, outside of the flow of its identifying and unifying narratives, and beyond their ability to effect the course of the public’s future. There is no felt presence of the past in prison, and to experience the inside of prison is to experience McAllister’s “ever-present now.” By necessity, inmates exist in a strict routine without significant variation. And prisoners’ knowledge of history is limited. Much of what passes as history at the Darrington unit consists of bits and pieces of usable pasts prisoners have cobbled together as they have been exposed to writings of culture warriors representing every conceivable agenda. Usable pasts have the effect of shattering unity in a prison by pitting groups against each other—a dangerous thing indeed in maximum security lockup.

How does the teaching of history serve as a grounding agent for meaning and identity? It does so by fostering civic engagement within the local community—the public—made up of the inmate students in Southwestern’s B.S. program at Darrington. Darrington as a prison may be more of a “space” than a “place.” Ironically however, the seminary at Darrington bears the marks of a place, of a cultivated garden in the midst of a wilderness. The student-inmates at the Darrington extension campus of Southwestern have found their community, their place—and have found a path toward meaningful engagement with each other for their common good, and ultimately for the good of the inmates of the entire prison. One way they do so is through their learning of history. As they learn history, they also learn to apply history to the real issues they experience together in the prison. As they do so, they learn how to productively engage in community with one another.

A model for a public’s healthy civic engagement is found in Alexis de Tocqueville’s description of what he found in 1830s New England. Specifically, Tocqueville provided a detailed description of the animating “spirit” of New England townships in Democracy in America. People in each New England township were members of their communities. As invested members, they found their communities to be worth the effort necessary for their care and management. Tocqueville noted that among the individuals in the various local groups, social distinctions and rank were non-existent. All were equals, thus there was no oppression of one group by any other. Each person’s cooperation for the flourishing of the community brought them a sense of attachment and affection to it. Tocqueville wrote, “in the United States it is believed . . . that patriotism is a kind of devotion which is strengthened by ritual observance. In this manner the activity of the township is continually perceptible; it is daily manifested in the fulfillment of a duty or the exercise of a right; and a constant through gentle motion is thus kept up in society, which animates without disturbing it.”[11]

To be sure, the key to the spirit of the New England townships, according to Tocqueville, was their independent and self-governing status. In this regard, the model presented in Democracy in America is necessarily unattainable to a certain extent. But even though the Darrington students will never have the opportunity for self-rule, either in the school or the prison as a while, they will still have smaller opportunities to plot their courses forward. For example, they’ve established a church called Makarios, a Greek word meaning blessed, happy. Makarios is led entirely by student inmates, and prisoners who are in the general population are invited to attend their services. The students are part of an academic program in which they are organized by cohort. They are accepted into the program together, matriculate together, attend classes and study together for four years, and graduate together. They forge strong bonds in this common experience of growth, challenge, and trial. And since the program is highly selective and defined by a vision of service to others, the students are a part of something that goes far beyond simply securing an education. They see themselves as part of a transformative movement of God. Byron R. Johnson conducted a study of an experimental faith based program attempted in the Texas prison system in the 1990s called InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI). He found that because the program was strongly oriented around service to others, the prisoners involved in that program felt “an overwhelming desire, if not obligation, to make a positive contribution to the community.” Furthermore, their visceral experiences of “going ‘to hell and back’ especially qualify them to reach out and help others not to make the same mistakes they have made.”[12] What Johnson observed in the IFI is clearly perceptible among the students in the Darrington unit.

So while the inmate community of students at Darrington is not independent and free to the extent of the New England communities that Tocqueville visited in the 1830s, the differences between them are mitigated by elements essential to the program. One of those essential element is the teaching of history. For example, I teach four history courses: Western Civilization, History of Philosophy, American Cultural Issues, and Principles of American Politics. In Western Civ, the students learn that they are part of an old and developed tradition that has not seen the end of its development. In History of Philosophy, they engage with the thinkers of the past and see that they are not the first to think deeply about the nature of things, the meaning of knowledge, and the application of right and wrong. In American Cultural Issues, they learn that though they are in prison, they are still Americans and still have a voice and can definitively shape their own culture in positive and productive ways. And in Principles of American Politics, they learn that our experiment in self-government is still an experiment, and a continual process of learning and engagement with others who have different perspectives and beliefs about what defines good government.

In Western Civ II, the students read Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. They are exposed to his ideas, they write about them, and they discuss them in the open. Their interpretations of and insights from Tocqueville are scrutinized and critiqued by their peers in the open, and they are guided by their professor who cares about them, and who is ultimately training them to minister to others who are also in prison. They read, for example, about those people who lived in the 1830s, those people whom Tocqueville encountered and wrote about in his classic work. They see that those people were members of a local community. They had a place among their fellows with whom they lived, breathed, and had their being. They see that those people in the past loved their communities, nurtured them, sought and fought for their best interests. They were emotionally attached to their local groups, and their communities were unified around the goal of securing and sustaining the common welfare. In reading texts from the past, like Tocqueville, the students come face to face with real people who went before them and found meaning, identity, and purpose to their lives. Even in prison, the students see themselves in the people of the past. And even in prison, the sense of historylessness is lost when they immerse themselves in history.

Du Bois wrote about the plight of African Americans in the south at the turn of the twentieth century in his Souls of Black Folk. African Americans in his day had suffered nearly 300 years of uninterrupted injustice against their families, their dignities, their minds and souls, and their persons. Slavery had been a series of grave injustices to African Americans, but it had also inflicted its violence on the land itself. The soil was eroded and exhausted, and by the end of the nineteenth century, much of the land that had been fruitful and productive was good for nothing. “The hard, ruthless rape of the land began to tell. The red-clay sub-soil already had begun to peer above the loam. The harder the slaves were driven the more careless and fatal was their farming.”[13] When injustice reigned, the people and the places suffered alike.

Prison is much the same. Injustice defines everything about the reason why the inmate resides at Darrington. The Darrington prison itself bears witness to injustices of unspeakable loathsomeness, and it is not a pleasant place. It is not air-conditioned, so it is hot and it smells like sweat. It is crowded and loud on “Main Street,” the main lane that goes down the length of the prison. The prisoners, as they make their way to a classroom on the other side of the prison, are stripped searched stark naked in front of each other and their professor as their bodies are examined by correctional officers. To be certain, this is necessary, but it is a part of a regular routine for the Darrington students that is outside the realm of reality for most people.

History teaches them that, in spite of their realities and in spite of their offenses, they are still men. Du Bois wrote of African Americans in 1903—“This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius. These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted, dispersed, or forgotten.”[14] Although Du Bois was writing about a different group in a different time experiencing different circumstances, these words are broadly applicable to the students at Darrington. History teaches them that, even though they have been expelled from free society, they are members of another society. And in that society, they have the opportunity to be co-laborers for their “kingdom of culture.” While they are isolated from their loved ones—many from their wives and children—history can teach them that they can yet use their “best powers” and “latent genius.” While society may want to forget them, history teaches them that they still have dignity, their decisions still have moral content, and they are fully capable of supplanting injustice acts with just ones. Du Bois teaches them these things, as do a host of other voices from history.

The Darrington prison is a hard place. All of the students enrolled in the program are serving life sentences, many for murder. But as they read, think about, discuss, grapple with, and interpret history, they find their own place in it. In and through their courses in history, the students find their place in community with each other; they find their place in history; and they nurture their community within the prison as a husbandman tends a garden. They are not placeless, neither are they historyless. Thus, they are not powerless. They see injustice and justice in history, and they learn that no offense excludes the possibility of reconciliation and redemption; that every individual is valuable and every community is worth nurturing and advancing for the sake of human flourishing. In many ways, the prisoners at Darrington have a keener awareness of these facts than we who live in the free world have. History fosters this awareness, and serves as a catalyst in their endeavor to pursue healthy and beneficial civic engagement in their local community.

[1] Messages of the Men and Religion Forward Movement (New York: Association Press, 1912).

[2] Philip Weltner, Recollections, p. 32.

[3] W. E. B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk in Writings, ed. Nathan Huggins (New York: Library of America, 1986), p. 451.

[4] U. S. Constitution, Amendment 13.

[5] Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, p. 450.

[6] Weltner, Recollections, p. 32.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ted. V. McAllister, “Making American Places: Civic Engagement Rightly Understood,” in Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America, ed. Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister (New York: Encounter, 2014), p. 190.

[9] Ibid., pp. 190–91.

[10] Ibid., pp. 191–92.

[11] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 1 (1945, repr; New York: Knopf, 1994), pp. 67–68.

[12] Byron R. Johnson, More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton, 2011), p. 129.

[13] Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, p. 449.

[14] Ibid., p. 365.

Trigger Warnings in Maximum Security Prison

Trigger-warningI must say, I am enjoying the fact that at the moment I have no lectures to prepare, no papers to grade, and no classes to lead. The past couple of weeks, I have written another two chapters of my forthcoming book on exceptionalism, and things are looking good for a productive remainder of the summer in terms of my research.

But just because I haven’t been in the classroom for a month now doesn’t mean I haven’t been reflecting on the past year and thinking about my classes for next year. I have a really full load in the fall–one graduate course called Makers of the American Mind, and five undergraduate courses: Western Civ I, Contemporary Worldviews, Issues in American Culture, History of Philosophy, and Principles and Structure of American Politics (which I have made primarily into an intellectual history of the Constitution). Fall is going to be busy–but with any luck, my book manuscript will be finished so I can focus on teaching.

Three of my classes–Western Civ, American Culture, and American Politics–will be at the prison. This will be my fourth year teaching out there, and I’ve been following the hubbub on trigger warnings–see here, herehere, and here.

It seems to me, that if there is anywhere one should be careful about creating a stir in the classroom, it would be in a room with forty convicted felons with no guards present. But to be honest, in the six semesters I have taught courses in the prison at Darrington, I haven’t given much thought in setting up a particular topic with a trigger warning. Perhaps I should–for example, in my American politics course, we devote six hours of class time to slavery and the civil rights movement. Lynching is one disturbing sub-topic (among many) I cover, and I have never encountered a problem with the students. In fact, many of the inmates have expressed their appreciation to me for not watering down the African American experience since 1619.

Still, I think it shows some common decency to at least think about how students may react to traumatic events in the past. I mean, I have no idea what the students in my prison courses have experienced in their lives–but I do know that many, if not most of them, reacted to their life experience by destroying other people’s lives, both literally and figuratively. And gaining trust among the inmates at Darrington is a much taller order than in a traditional classroom. Inmates are suspicious and contemptuous of authority in many cases, and building trust is key if I am going to be successful in educating these men.

I’ve learned a lot about teaching, being in the Darrington Unit. While I think that it is easy for folks to get upset about the over-sensitivity of college students, freedom of speech, and a host of other issues surrounding the idea of trigger warnings, I still think that a bit of care and thought toward undergraduates and their backgrounds and feelings can go a long way.

On Inmate Students, the Capetian Dynasty, and “Weak” French

Last week, I walked into the Darrington Unit to give my last lectures before the final exam. As I was putting my shoes back on after going through security, I found out that the unit was on lock-down. All the offenders in the prison were “racked up,” that is, they were all confined to their cells while the officers were searching for contraband.

End of year lock-down is a normal and routine procedure. At the end of the year, the officers at the prison clear out whatever contraband materials have made their way into the population. It usually lasts a couple of weeks. This year is different, because lock-down started a lot earlier than normal.

That meant that I had to record my final lectures. The students at Darrington will be watching my recordings as soon as their lock-down is over and they can return to the education wing where we have our “campus.”

This experience helped me to reflect a bit on what on earth I’m doing at the Darrington Unit. My students can’t get out of their cells because they’re on lock-down, for pete’s sake. I can come and go freely. I will be enjoying my Christmas holiday over the next few weeks. Surrounded by my family and my friends, I will be enjoying food, fellowship, and relaxation. I will also be at ease in my study, working on my book project.

My students will not be enjoying any of those things. Are they getting what they deserve? It’s certainly easy to say “yes” and move on. But teaching in the prison certainly gives me perspective on who I am before God, and my own need for reconciliation with Him through Jesus Christ. I can’t be flippant about the question of “deserve.”

On another note, I thought I’d post a sample lecture for you. If you are into the beginning of the French monarchy in the tenth century, enjoy! As you watch, lift up a prayer for those men who are confined to an 8′ x 12′ cell for the next seven days, (and a maximum security prison, many of them for life) and be thankful for your freedom.

Teaching Hobbes and Locke in a Prison

     Between Western Civilization II, Christian Apologetics, and Principles of American Politics classes, the students at the SWBTS Darrington Extension get a lot of exposure to the political thought of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704).  It is fascinating for me as I teach these courses to watch how they respond to the philosophies of Hobbes and Locke, given that they are incarcerated in a maximum security prison.
     Hobbes wrote in The Leviathan (1651) that men are fundamentally individualistic, and are interested above all in maintaining their personal security. In the state of nature, that is, the state in which men live prior to establishing a civil government, everyone’s lives and property are continually at risk. Hobbes’ state of nature is a state of insecurity and chaos. While everyone has absolute individual freedom, nobody has peace.
     In order to remedy this condition, Hobbes wrote that individuals agree to forfeit their freedoms in exchange for stability, security and peace. These are found in the establishment of a civil government, on the basis of a social contract, that is ruled by an absolute sovereign. People forfeit all their rights but one, the right to life. The right to life is sustained by the sovereign, who is the embodiment of the state. For Hobbes, peace and security are maintained through fear, rather than the rule of law.
     Locke, in his Second Treatise on Civil Government (1689), agreed with Hobbes that men exist in a state of nature (he pointed to Native Americans as an illustration of the meaning of the state of nature), and that the social contract establishes the civil government. But Locke asserted that government rules by the consent of the people, who retain their rights not only to life, but also to liberty and property. These rights are inborn, given to individuals by God, and no one has the right to deprive another of these rights. Locke also asserted that if the sovereign deprives the citizens of these rights, either actively or passively, then the people have the right and the responsibility to replace him with one who will guard their rights.
     Both Hobbes and Locke wrote these treatises with the violence and chaos of the English Civil War in mind. Charles I, king of England and Scotland, had been put on trial and publicly beheaded. Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads in Parliament ruled ineptly during the 1650s, so in 1660, the Stuart monarchy was restored. But Parliament would again become embittered against the king in 1688, and it invited William of Orange to displace James II. This was known as the Glorious Revolution. Locke wrote the Two Treatises as a defense of William’s claim to the throne—Locke said that he ruled by the consent of Parliament, which represented the people.
     Teaching on these things is always a lot of fun, because all this is personally interesting to me. The first time I taught on seventeenth century England, it was for  eighth and ninth graders. But teaching on Hobbes and Locke in a prison context is really special.
     The men understand exactly what Hobbes is saying about the selfishness of people. They live that reality each day, seeking to overcome it themselves while being surrounded constantly by others who are nurturing their selfishness. They also live under a Hobbesian system—not a pure Hobbesian system perhaps, but certainly more pure than the system in which I live. They have broken the law themselves, and are living with many others who have broken the law—the law is no deterrent for most of the inmates at Darrington. But fear is a powerful motivator, and that is what Hobbes thought kept order. Also, they live and move and have their being according to the dictates of a central authority—that of the warden and those who serve under him. Their every move is watched and controlled, 24/7—their every move.
     Still, the students at Darrington know they have not forfeited their rights to life, liberty, and even of property. They have a strong sense of Lockean liberalism, even if they do not enjoy its benefits like those of us in the free world do. So for the Darrington students, there is a palpable tension between the system they know experientially—a Hobbesian system—and a system of which they have a longing awareness—a Lockean system.
    The students at Darrington are faced with historical-philosophical ideas that are manifest not in abstract, but in concrete terms. Their exposure to these ideas might be similar in some way to how people faced them in the 1650s, 1680s, or 1770s—not as abstractions fit only for a classroom, but as concrete reality that taxes every part of one’s being.
     Never a dull moment teaching at the Darrington extension of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.