Loyola at Angola
Student inmates are visited by Loyola students and faculty
Members of the Loyola community stand outside Louisiana State Penitentiary after visiting inmates enrolled in the institute’s certificate program. The trip aimed to help the inmates feel a stronger sense of community with other students by creating an immersive learning environment. COURTESY OF LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY
20 members of the Loyola University community journeyed to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in order to bring a sense of educational community to student inmates.
The seven students are part of the institute's certificate program, which is a graduate level education program offered at the prison.
The trip was organized by the Loyola Institute for Ministry in order to visit seven students who are currently inmates at the prison.
Thomas Ryan, director of the Loyola Institute for Ministry, said that tuition is often a prohibiting factor for inmates. However, a grant covering the cost of tuition and books has made the program attainable for the inmates, he said.
"Tuition for the graduate degree for these students is prohibitive, so the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge got a grant from Our Sunday Visitor Foundation, a Catholic magazine's foundation, and they are covering the cost of tuition and books for our students there," Ryan said.
Students enrolled in the institute's graduate program, various faculty members and Provost Marc Manganaro made up the group of 20 that made the trip.
Kayla August, resident chaplain of Cabra Hall and member of the institute's program, was among those who journeyed to Angola.
"I had never visited Angola before this trip. I knew very little about prison life other than what is presented in movies, but this was truly eye opening," August said.
Ryan said the trip came about as a result of a conversation that occurred between an inmate and himself. The inmate said the he did not feel connected to other students, because he was physically isolated from them, and Ryan proposed the idea of bringing members of the school community to the inmates.
The point of the trip was not to tour the prison, but rather to unite classmates and build a community based in similarities not differences, Ryan said.
"I left inspired. I was inspired by these men, who faced a future of a life spent behind bars and seemingly hopeless circumstances," August said.
Ryan said that even though he knew what to expect in regards to the prison and inmates, there were still some aspects that he did not expect.
"Some of the things that impressed me were how hospitable our hosts were, so the inmates prepared the tables and chairs for us and were very welcoming. The inmates are enrolled in a ministry program and consider themselves lay ministers for the other inmates," Ryan said. "And one of the things that was very interesting was how similar their concerns are to those of lay ministers outside of prison."
The concept of recognizing "one's own fallenness" was an idea that Ryan noticed many of the participants encountered during their visit.
"I think that out of that position of vulnerability came a deep sense of faith and spirituality that was moving and impressive," Ryan said.
Ryan said one inmate said that they often feel like outcasts of society and that the willingness of their fellow classmates to go there helped them overcome that feeling and connected them to the outside world.
August said that the trip and inmates' personal journeys left a lasting impression.
"They had come to terms with their past, felt true sorrow for their offenses, and managed, despite the system, to be transformed into the best versions themselves," August said.
Lauren Patton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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