Sharing the success of the CIU Prison Initiative

CIU Prison Intitiative alumnus Ryan Chitwood chats with local pastors at a Prison Initiative luncheon.
October 13, 2020

Local pastors listen to testimonies over lunch

By Bob Holmes

When Ryan Chitwood was a student in the CIU Prison Initiative, he ministered daily to fellow inmates who struggled with mental health issues and addictions. Now, since his release from prison, he is becoming better prepared to continue in that ministry as a student on CIU’s main campus studying for a Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling.   

Chitwood told nearly two dozen pastors and prison ministry workers at a CIU Prison Initiative luncheon that the counseling path is a “calling” that was fostered through his experience in the program.

“It began with those first steps of where Christ was leading me, and I don’t think I could be here today if it weren’t for this program,” Chitwood said. “The path that I got on began with the CIU Prison Initiative.”

The CIU Prison Initiative, which held its first classes in 2007, equips qualified inmates through an accredited Associate of Arts degree, to reach fellow inmates with the message of Christ. After graduation, alumni of the CIU Prison Initiative are assigned as chaplain’s assistants at correctional facilities around the state. A total of 169 inmates have graduated from the program.

But like Chitwood, 36 of the Prison Initiative graduates have served their time, and continue to make their impact outside prison walls.  

Among them are Jerry Chambers, who served over 20 years of his prison term before being released. He is now married and a father of two, employed in CIU’s Physical Plant, and volunteers with the Prison Initiative.  

“The Prison Initiative is dear to my heart,” Chambers said. “This program is great, and continues to be a blessing to me. I continue to serve in this program because it has given so much to me, and so I want to give back.”

Prison Initiative Director, The Rev. Andre Melvin, noted that Prison Initiative students visit every male inmate as each enters the South Carolina prison system, amounting to about 30,000 visits annually.

“You can imagine this is a crisis moment for these inmates coming in for the first time, so they are open for hope and truth,” Melvin said. “Our students have the opportunity (to meet them) between two and six hours each week. They are able to pray with them, listen to them, and sometimes they are given the opportunity to preach to the whole dorm.”

Melvin says that with the United States having the highest rate of incarceration in the world, “We have a great problem.”

“That also means we have a great opportunity for the gospel to be proclaimed,” he concluded. “Our goal is to reach this mission field. We’re trying to fulfill The Great Commission, and we’re focused on the prison.”  

Find out more about the CIU Prison Initiative and how you can support it.

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