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21 Mount Olive inmates first to graduate penitentiary's bible college

A group of 21 inmates Tuesday became the first to graduate from Mount Olive Bible College. (WCHS/WVAH File)

A group of 21 inmates Tuesday became the first to graduate from Mount Olive Bible College.

The program is an extension campus of Appalachian Bible College and is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission, a news release from the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said.

The Mount Olive Correctional Complex inmates each earned four-year Bachelor of Arts degrees in Bible/Theology and Pastoral Ministry through Mount Olive Bible College. They began the program in September 2014.

Governor Jim Justice visited the maximum-security prison Tuesday, congratulating and encouraging the men for their works and sharing his own story of faith. Justice is the first sitting governor to visit the prison since 1996, the release said.

“Deliver the message that is in you today. Make goodness happen,” Justice said. “You can do it. You’ve already done it. You’ve made us all, families and all, really proud.”

Mount Olive Bible College was designed for inmates serving life or long-term sentences. Officials said about a fourth of the inaugural class is eligible for parole or release.

The graduates will now counsel and encourage other inmates and assist prison chaplains with their ministry, the release said.

The program was inspired by a similar college course offered at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and does not involve taxpayer dollars or public funds. Catalyst Ministries covers the cost.

“Gentlemen, you rose, with not the same luxuries as many, you rose and you met that high academic standard,” Catalyst Ministries President Calvin Sutphin II said Tuesday. “You’re pioneers, you’re the first. You’ve chartered a course for many to follow. And over the last four and a half years, I’m telling you, gentlemen, with many eyes on you for different reasons, you became an inspiration to us all.”

The names of the 21 graduates were not released.

The program’s current inmates make up its largest enrollment, with 41 full-time students.

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