CPI offers Knollcrest students opportunities to volunteer with students at Handlon Prison


Anya Rop

The Prodigal Dads program allows inmates to restore relationships and spend a day with their children.

The Calvin Prison Initiative (CPI) offers inmates at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility the chance to get a Calvin University liberal arts education. Upon graduating this growing five-year program, students at the Handlon campus will have a BA in Faith and Community Leadership.

CPI’s desire is that not only will human lives regain their hope, but prison culture will be transformed, and justice will become not merely retributive but restorative. Studies show that prison education programs significant​ly lower violence within the facility ​and reduce the likelihood of recidivism once an individual is released from prison. At Handlon, this is evidenced by a change of nickname. Previously, the Handlon Correctional Facility was known as “Gladiator School.” Now, after a few years of educational and religious programs, the facility is jokingly known as “Candyland.” A strikingly similar story can be found regarding Louisiana’s State Penitentiary, Angola.

People often wonder how prison education programs benefit society. However, most Americans also hold the philosophy that all individuals deserve the chance to improve their mind and situation. At the Handlon campus, this becomes a matter of morality and public service as well; most inmates will return to the same communities from which they came. It is better that they return educated, and with a broader worldview. Higher levels of education directly lower recidivism rates, which in turn lower tax-funded government expenses.

As well as the degree program, CPI is pioneering new programs and events, all of which have the need for passionate individuals who wish to make a difference, for casual students who need volunteer hours, for visionaries with new ideas, and for anyone in between.

Project descriptions have been pulled and revised from the CPI website.

Art Workshops

Student senate seeks greater integration between Calvin’s Knollcrest campus and the Handlon campus, to further cement the understanding that CPI’s students are just as much Calvin students as those on Burton Street. One way they are seeking to strengthen this relationship is through art.

Some of Calvin’s professors, like Anna Greidanus, Lew Klatt, and Brent Williams, have facilitated art workshops at Handlon. The art produced was recently displayed at the Center Art Gallery. The Calvin Prison Initiative, its students, and student senate hope that such an opportunity could happen again. The artwork created will be, by donation of the artist, displayed at the Knollcrest campus in a more permanent form. For this to occur, broader student support is needed.

Many CPI students are talented, and some are looking for ways to express themselves artistically. However, the cost of materials often wildly exceeds their ability to purchase those items. Additionally, the vast majority of the CPI students have had little, if any, formal instruction, and little exposure to the arts in general. Therefore, CPI seeks student volunteers willing to help acquire art supplies and to help facilitate art workshops for the CPI students.

Prodigal Dads

Incarceration often becomes an intergenerational cycle for children with imprisoned parents. The children of the incarcerated are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems and mental health issues. Additionally, many prisoners come from broken homes and were incarcerated at a young age, a situation that leaves them unaware of how one becomes a good parent. Therefore, CPI has worked to coordinate Prodigal Dads, a 12-week curriculum on parenting, at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility.

Prodigal Dads will culminate with an event called One Day with God. One Day with God brings the inmates’ children into the prison to spend the day with them. It is a day of improving relationships, with shared meals, activities and gifts for the children.

Additionally, the parents or guardians that are not incarcerated are hosted at a nearby church while the children visit their fathers inside the prison.

To pull this event off, we need 100 volunteers. Each child is assigned two volunteers, who serve as required chaperones.

Volunteer training will occur at Calvin University, and volunteers may choose whether they would like to go in for the event or to assist in other ways.

Donation Garden

CPI students at Handlon Campus cultivate a Donation Garden, the proceeds of which are donated to Safe Haven Ministries, an organization combating domestic abuse. While the CPI students are willing to do their part, they need students’ help in acquiring supplies, providing administrative oversight, and coordinating logistical support. For instance, volunteers might: 1) work with various organizations to donate seeds and other supplies, 2) work with Calvin faculty to schedule planting and determine crop rotation, or 3) inform agency contacts when shipments of produce are eligible for delivery.

CPI Graduation

A class of CPI students will graduate this May! In response, CPI and the Michigan Department of Corrections will host a facility-wide graduation celebration, honoring the graduates and bringing in their family members for the event. CPI needs assistance with providing the facility’s celebratory meal. As such, volunteers are needed to help raise funds and acquire materials and food items, such as baked goods, for the facility’s 1,275 inmates.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Calvin Prison Initiative, in one of these endeavors or in other ways, there are many ways to connect:

  • Fill out an interest form on the CPI website
  • Stop by the Student Senate office in Commons Annex
  • Email ​[email protected]with the subject “Volunteering,” and include your area of interest