First master's graduation at Stateville
A unique class of Illinois students received master's degrees last month in front of their cheering and weeping families.
- Most were inmates at Stateville Correctional Center, where they have been studying Christian Ministry and Restorative Arts though North Park University.
- The inaugural graduating class became the first of its kind in the state.
Why it matters: The program has the potential to help incarcerated people become a source of healing, teaching and crime prevention both in and out of correctional facilities.
The backstory: Former North Park dean of faculty Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom started the program to offer theological higher education to the "most invisible, most impacted by intersecting social ills — poverty, racism, abuse." Most of the students had never had access to quality education, she tells Axios.
Context: Restorative arts is "the theological study of personal healing and societal transformation," assistant director Vickie Reddy tells Axios.
- In addition to Bible studies, theology and history, the program includes courses on trauma, race relations, nonviolent communication, conflict transformation, restorative practices and transformative justice.
By the numbers: The free four-year program is currently offered at Stateville to 80 incarcerated men and to 20 women at Logan Correctional Center.
What they're saying: "What North Park University understood with this program is that we achieve our highest calling as a community when those who have the least among us are leading the charge to get us there," Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said at the graduation.
- "We are interconnected. We are one another."
The big picture: This means "our potential is not defined by our worst mistakes," graduate Jamal Bakr said during the ceremony.
- "Let today's event be an example of what happens when opportunities are created, potentials are unignored and complete restoration is always the aim of justice."
What's next: Axios spoke with some of the graduates about gun violence, bond reform, generational trauma and the corrections system.
- We'll present those discussions throughout the summer.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom is the former dean of faculty at North Park, not the current dean.
More Chicago stories
No stories could be found
Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.