Rev. Dr. Corey Minatani, M.Div.
Submitted for Consideration for Publication to American Prison Writing Archive 8-2-2021
Word Count 1392
Is it even possible? 4: Doctoral Project
As part of my requirements for completion of my Doctor of Ministry degree at Covenant Bible
Seminary, student learners are asked to complete a ministry project. My project finally came down to a focus to enroll inmate men at Washington State Penitentiary into seminary. With all the barriers for inmates attending a regular community college, attempting to attend seminary is tenfold more difficult: cost per credit, cost of textbooks, navigating enrollment forms, collecting transcripts, budgeting, and the stigma of Christian study in prison. Trying to organize all these items for fellow inmates is a Herculean task as many inmates are certainly God-fearing, but many have yet to attain their General Education Diploma (GED) or struggle with various learning disorders; another consideration is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic with the Delta variant running amok. My job as the Project Navigator was to guide these men to success. To this end, I believe it worked quite well.
This ministry project must have a two-fold evaluation process before presenting it to Covenant
Bible Seminary’s Dean and grading committee. The first level of evaluation is an overall Project
Mentor; my mentor is Dr. Dan Holcomb, and he makes various recommendations, comments, and puts forth concerns. The second level of evaluation is obtaining three Peer Evaluators; Peer
Evaluators are minister-level (i.e. ordained) evaluators that I must meet with throughout my project and get their recommendations. Here, the student learner gets to pick his evaluators due to their specific expertise. One evaluator is the East Complex chaplain, Chaplain Gilbert Alden; another evaluator is former inmate Rev. Clark Kudlacek, who educated me on inmate addictions and learning barriers; my third evaluator is Dr. Joseph Schultz, the Registrar for Covenant Bible
Seminary. All of these fine evaluators were instrumental with their comments through the development of a plan of action to enroll inmates into seminary.
Once I get all the evaluators in place, now I have to actually do the research, planning, connecting, and navigating the barriers to inmate enrollment. One of the biggest hurdles is budgeting and price-points for tuition. On the budgeting front, inmate men can budget to a degree their gratuity paychecks (roughly about $55) to purchase various hygiene items, food stuffs, and other utility items; this budget can easily be destroyed due to gambling, drug purchases, payment for tattoo work, and other gang or dealer-mentality type activities. Here in the prison, an inmate boss (aka an enforcer, shock-collar, whip, or key holder) can force an inmate to spend his money. As mentioned before, these folks do not look kindly on spending money for school, let alone a Christian seminary. In addition, once the inmate boss mocks trying to enter seminary, there is an immediate stigma attached to enrollment of the potential seminary candidate. In other words, going to school isn’t cool. Going to school is definitely outside the sub-culture of gang and drug-dealing. Another issue is race. In prison, especially the penitentiary, inmates are divided up into race; the inmate bosses will ensure other members of their race do not mix with the other races, regardless of spiritual affiliation.
If I can navigate the candidate through all of this mess, then we can focus upon paying for tuition. In some institutions, college is paid by the state. However, religious colleges must be paid by the inmate or his friends or family; there are no scholarships, financial aid, or government help in any way. I have always argued inmates must try to budget and pay their own way through school, but many of these men simply haven’t had the real-world experience or need to do so. Therefore, various seminaries were researched, including my own, Covenant
Bible Seminary (CBS). While CBS may offer a 50% scholarship for needy students, at
$65/credit hour, this tuition schedule is still out of range for most inmates.
Luckily, while perusing a prison legal publication, I happened upon International Christian
College and Seminary (ICCS), based in Debary, Florida. ICCS required a down payment of
$5.95 and a monthly tuition of $13! This was right in the zone that was reasonable and practical.
In addition, the seminary offered flexible options for coursework and textbooks. For example,
ICCS offered a standard structured program of instruction for an Associate in Arts in Biblical
Studies with set textbooks. The student could purchase the textbooks related to the three-credit course; the degree requires a full 60-credit load. Another option allowed is Personalized Courses whereby the student may use any books at his disposal in the prison; once the books have been authorized by the seminary, the students must write a report on the book. To receive the full three credits, the student’s books must equal to at least 900 pages; each book requires a report.
In addition, some institutions allow eBooks due to technological allowances such as tablets into the prison system. In this case, students can opt to have eBooks authorized which are provided by Project Gutenberg. These books are usually very old (e.g. 1800 and early 1900s), but are very thorough in their commentary and descriptions. This is especially helpful against the wave of spiritually-light material in today’s Christian publishing market.
One of the problems I faced in helping the inmates is in populating forms. Many of the inmates simply do not like forms, or are easily confused by forms. They have often asked me to help fill out the evaluation form (i.e. registration form) for ICCS, and they say they don’t know what to do. “You don’t know your name?” is usually my answer to these guys. My intuition tells me they just don’t want to do any work. Oftentimes, in prison, everything is done for them. For example, when I watch Navigators for Walla Walla Community College help guys sign up for college, they do most of the work: fill out forms, tell the inmate what classes they will take, and ask them to sign. In essence, they are spoon-fed at every level of their lives; it is no wonder they are institutionalized! If the inmates are illiterate, that’s one thing. Normally, this isn’t the case as they can get through various Bible studies with other inmates. I also see them easily navigate the store list in which to purchase junk-food. So, I try to empower the candidate to do things for themselves. It’s their degree, therefore it is their responsibility to budget, pay, and organize themselves and their lives for seminary. This advice, let’s call it, isn’t always well received.
However, many of these men have children, and I argue that their kids can do this work, why not them? “I’m not that good with this stuff,” is the usual response. I reply with “It takes practice!
So get started!” Grumbling, they come back with a completed registration form.
At the end of this essay, I’ve included two forms to help these guys get started: A Prospect Sheet and a Matriculation Sheet. The Prospect Sheet is designed to see if these candidates are even ready for seminary. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, my recruitment efforts have been stymied.
Nonetheless, through the Prospect Sheet, I was able to determine people ready for seminary; out of the population surveyed, 60% registered for ICCS or will register. One student paid before registering, which gummed up the process; we are currently working through this. Another student is working with his church, and they want him to finish a counseling course before entering seminary. Once the counseling course is complete, they will raise money for textbooks and tuition! Another student did everything correct in registration, but the counselors working for the Department of Corrections (DOC) somehow separated the check and the registration form, resulting in a delay in registration. Once the students get registered, I give them a
Matriculation Sheet to help document their process in completing coursework.
In short, this is a fun process getting to know the men, the seminary, the evaluators, and myself in leading men into seminary. While the journey isn’t over, my time here at the penitentiary is coming to a close. At the time of this writing, I’ve only nineteen days left before leaving prison.
The next step is compiling all the data and writing the dissertation. Luckily, at that time, I will be in the arms of Seattle and planning my future. God Bless.
[image of three white intersecting circles within a gray square]
Seminarian Prospect Sheet
1. Are you interested in working for God?
2. Are you committed in learning the Gospel to spread the Good News?
3. Can you be an example to potential Christians?
4. Are you willing to let God teach you to be a leader?
5. Do you like to help people? If so, how?
6. Can you work to earn $13 per month for tuition?
7. Do you get lost in paperwork? If yes, are you willing to get help?
8. Do you get confused with foreign words or big words? If yes, get a dictionary.
9. Do you want a job where you are the boss?
10. Do people come up to talk to you for advice?
11. Are you a good listener?
12. Do you like to write?
13. Do you like speaking in front of people?
14. Are you good at memorizing stuff?
15. Do you like music?
Four or less “Yes” Might want to wait, not quite ready for ministry
Five to seven “Yes” Potential candidate for Seminary, possible future Deacon
Eight to ten “Yes” Good talent and good candidate for Seminary, possible Minister
Eleven or more “Yes” Great talent and excellent candidate for Seminary, potential Pastor
Seminary Navigator Signature
Reverend Corey Minatani, M.Div.
International Christian College and Seminary
1. Send a query letter asking for information about the AA degree program. Inform Seminary that DOC does not allow Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes (SASE).
2. Fill out evaluation form completely. Be sure to send in any Bible-study transcripts/grade reports for credit evaluation. Do not send original copies of certificates.
3. Study all FAQs sent on homework and grading.
Do you understand the coversheet requirement Y/N?
Do you understand that Christian books need to be authorized by mail first Y/N?
If you read a Christian book, there is a report due. Do you know the word number requirement
Do you understand that each 3-credit course for Christian books = 900 pages total Y/N?
If you have at least 4 “Yes,” then move to the next step. If you have less than 4 “Yes,” go back and re-read the FAQ.
4. When homework or report is done, fill out a coversheet for each assignment. Mail to
Seminary to receive 3 credits.
Assignment Complete and Sent Date
1. = 3 Credits
2. = 3 Credits
3. = 3 Credits
4. = 3 Credits
5. = 3 Credits
= 15 Credits
6. = 3 Credits
7. = 3 Credits
8. = 3 Credits
9. = 3 Credits
10. = 3 Credits
Assignment Complete and Send Date Continued
11. = 3 Credits
12. = 3 Credits
13. = 3 Credits
14. = 3 Credits
15. = 3 Credits
16. = 3 Credits
17. = 3 Credits
18. = 3 Credits
19. = 3 Credits
20. = 3 Credits
Arts in Biblical
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