Michael Hallett, Joshua Hays, Byron R Johnson, Sung Joon Jang, and Grant Duwe, Angola Prison Seminary: The Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation

AuthorDavid A Green
Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
Subject MatterBook reviews
Michael Hallett, Joshua Hays, Byron R Johnson, Sung Joon Jang, and Grant Duwe,
Angola Prison Seminary: The Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation,
Desistance, and Rehabilitation, Routledge: New York, 2017; 264 pp. (including index):
978-0815351733, $109 (cloth), $49.95 (pbk)
The outsized role that faith in religious, predominantly Christian, mythology has
played in American politics and cultural life over the course of the nation’s history
is one commonly recognized exceptional feature that sets the USA apart from
other liberal democracies. However, as the split among Protestants in response
to the morally noxious Trump administration strikingly reveals, internecine con-
flict over sacred ideas leads to inevitable confusion about what the categorical
designation of ‘Christian’ actually means. For example, prominent conservative,
premillennial evangelicals maintain loyalty to an unapologetic president whose
amoral conduct and policies are self-evidently anathema to essential Christian
values. The puzzle of this hypocrisy may be enthralling but it can also leave a
misleading impression. In Angola Prison Seminary, Hallett et al. vividly portray a
very different, compassionate, ecumenical Christianity animating the work of
moral rehabilitation of inmates by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
The authors combine their proficiencies to describe and assess the transformational
and prosocial forms and functions that prison religion has taken and served in the
course of its evolution at Angola. Their study closely examines how and why a
morally elevating combination of religious faith and fellowship can foster the
motivation and support for inmates to ‘make good’, through a process of self-
examination and identity transformation. The book is a reminder and affirmation
of similar accounts of faith-driven transformation as described in the autobiogra-
phies of Chuck Colson, veteran of another amoral presidential administration,
who, after serving time for his involvement in Watergate, founded Prison
Fellowship “on the simple premise that change and reform begin with changed
hearts” (Colson, 1979: 216).
Angola Prison Seminary is fascinating and well suited to the moment. It deserves
to be read and discussed by a broad audience, especially those who aspire
to transform how Americans think about and do the work of criminal justice.
It will be useful to scholars and students of criminal desistance, corrections and
rehabilitation, prisons, positive psychology and criminology, narrative criminolo-
gy, phenomenological psychology, and the role of religion and morality in criminal
justice. The book’s employment of mixed methods makes it a useful supplementary
text for a research methods course, too. It works well as both a set of stand-alone
readings and as a coherent monograph, though it would benefit from editing to
reduce repetition. I would especially recommend the book to criminologists who,
for whatever reasons, are reluctant to think much about religion in contemporary
criminal justice contexts. The book reveals the outsized therapeutic role that
religiosity and religiously motivated human beings plays in inmates’ daily lives,
modeling compassion and mutual respect, and enabling inmates not just to endure
Book reviews 383

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