Corban University with Paid in Full Oregon is putting a fully accredited four-year college program for inmates in the Oregon State Correctional Institution starting in the fall of 2019.
Paid in Full Oregon is led by Tom Kohl, a retired Washington County Judge, and Rich Jones, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Worship Center in Hillsboro.
According to Kohl, some of the inmates who go through the program will become assistants to chaplains and will be sent to other state prisons to make a positive spiritual impact. They will also be available to mentor and counsel their fellow inmates.
“Most of all, they will offer hope,” Kohl said.
“The hope is to change the hearts of inmates in the Oregon prison system who can then have an impact on the entire system,” Kohl said. “They’re going to finish the program, and, when they graduate, they will be sent out as influencers to other prisons within the state. They’ll mentor. They’ll help chaplains. They’ll be evangelists within the prison walls. Not only will they get a college degree that helps them in life, but they will get the opportunity to change the culture of the system, as well as the entire community.”
The program is a perfect fit for Corban, said Provost Mike Patterson. “We will provide a grace-filled, discipleship-orientated college degree for prison inmates,” he said. “And we believe this program will change the trajectory of the lives of countless inmates – and their families – for many years to come.”’
The program will admit 25 inmates each year, guiding them toward a degree in psychology and a minor in theology from Corban. All classes will be taught by Corban professors.
Kohl and Jones looked to similar college programs in prisons throughout the country to show it works. Louisiana’s Angola prison was once one of the cruelest maximum-security prisons in the nation, but, after a Bible seminary program was put in place, assaults inside the prison decreased by 75 percent, according to research conducted by Baylor University.
“Instead of returning to regular life with guns in their hands, they’ll have Bibles,” Kohl said.
Seven other states have similar seminaries in one prison or more. And every prison saw positive outcomes in a decrease of violence as well as an increase in purpose and conversion to Christianity within the prison.
“The model works,” Kohl said. “We’ve seen it over and over. Faith-based education positively transforms prisons all throughout the country.”
While Kohl and Jones have been lifelong friends, it was tragedy that brought them closer and sparked the ministry of Paid in Full. Both men lost their daughters to murder.
Kohl, whose daughter was killed in 2006, shares his story of faith in his book titled “Losing Megan: Finding Hope, Comfort and Forgiveness in the Midst of Murder,” available on Amazon.
After losing his daughter, Kohl said he felt no hatred toward his daughter’s killer, who was sentenced to prison. Kohl asked to meet with him to share his faith, and the prisoner burst into tears and asked, “Judge, how can you be so kind?”
“Jesus had already started the process of enabling me to forgive her murderer, before I even knew his name,” Kohl said.
The same kind of forgiveness was extended by Jones in a Hillsboro courtroom last year for a man who in August 2014 killed his daughter Nicole. Jones and Kohl were friends before, but the common tragedy of the two daughters’ murders has closely bonded the retired judge and pastor.
The journey of forgiveness sparked the passion to positively affect inmates in Oregon prisons.
In order to be accepted into the Paid in Full Oregon program, the students must have at least eight years left in their sentences, a high school degree or G.E.D., and a clean disciplinary record.
Paid in Full Oregon is currently prioritizing raising money primarily to remodel the classroom at the prison, which the institution is requiring before classes begin.
“The space is perfect for our classroom,” Kohl said. “But we have to remodel it before we begin.”
The organization is in the process of fundraising to cover the nearly $500,000, which is the potential cost for the remodel.
Kohl and Jones are also hoping to find Corban students who feel passionate about the mission of Paid in Full and who would like to serve the ministry in email and social media strategy. Interested students can contact Tom directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kohl will share his full story and about Paid in Full Oregon at a Corban chapel in January.