CIU Prison Initiative Graduates 10

December 15, 2017

By Bob Holmes

Norm fought back tears of joy as the candidates for graduation formed the line that would lead to “the walk” when a Columbia International University student becomes an alumnus. But for Norm and the nine others who would receive their diploma, “the walk” would not be across a chapel stage, but a walk across “The Yard” — the prison yard leading to the commencement ceremony at the Kirkland Correctional Institution’s multipurpose room.  

Norm (full names are withheld for security reasons) was part of the latest two-year cohort to graduate with an Associate of Arts degree from the CIU Prison Initiative, training qualified inmates to live in accordance with biblical principles and equipping them for the unique ministry opportunities afforded by their incarceration. After graduation, the men are assigned as chaplain assistants to prisons throughout South Carolina.

“I’ve never finished anything in my life, and God has allowed me to be fulfilled in Him,” Norm said as he celebrated with family after the Dec. 8 commencement. “It’s not about my work, but about His kingdom work that He allows me to do.”

Norm was among nine student-inmates awarded the Associate degree this year, while one earned a bachelor’s degree. The graduates join 136 CIU Prison Initiative alumni serving in over 20 South Carolina prisons and one Alabama prison.

The commencement speaker was former CIU President Dr. Johnny Miller who reminded the graduates of what the biblical characters Moses, King David and the Apostle Paul had in common: they were murderers.

“They sinned egregiously,” Miller said with passion. “Guys, no matter how evil your crime was, you are not second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. And you are not second class servants in the Kingdom of God.

“There is no sin, no crime that Jesus didn’t pay for on the cross,” Miller continued. “And there is no sinner beyond the power of the blood of Christ, to save and transform, and to use for God’s glory.”

That’s the kind of talk that resonates with Norm.

“I stand here loving God with all my heart, and loving the family of Christ,” Norm said. “It’s so overwhelming, there’s not even words to describe it.”    

Many CIU students on campus volunteer with the CIU Prison Initiative as part of their spiritual life experience.

The CIU Prison Initiative is privately funded. For information on how you can support this ministry, contact the CIU Development Office at (803) 807-5500 or visit