By Natalie Rummel
Phil Keller was raised in a Christian home, but he admits he rejected virtually everything about the concept of God. By the age of 16, he considered himself an atheist. As an adult, his life began to spiral downward. His marriage ended and he eventually was arrested for killing a man. It was then he found himself in a completely foreign world — jail. “I was still convinced there was no God. Then He arranged a series of ‘coincidences’ I could not explain away,” the Elkhart, Ind. resident said. Finally, Keller acknowledged that something or someone must be orchestrating things around him.
“Past Bible knowledge made me realize I had been wrong and I was the fool that Scripture speaks about,” he remembered. “So one night about two months after my arrest I prayed the sinner’s prayer.”
Keller spent 13 months in his local county jail, 10 years at the Indiana State Prison, and six years at the Westville Correctional Facility. While at the Indiana State Prison, he enrolled in Grace College, earning an associate degree while accruing credits toward a bachelor’s degree. When he was transferred to Westville, he enrolled in another education program and, after a couple of semesters, was able to transfer those credits to Grace in order receive a B.S. in Organizational Management.
“Grace was an oasis in the middle of a desert. Focusing on classes rather than my time or environment was truly a Godsend,” he said. “It challenged my mind and gave me purpose.”
Grace College, located in Winona Lake, Ind., has had a prison extension program since 1986, when it started as a Bible study led by Professor Ken Taylor. The only degree available at that time was an associate in Biblical Studies. Today Grace has almost 300 students enrolled in its prison program and offers bachelor’s degrees in Organizational Management and Organizational Leadership, as well as an associate degree in Biblical Studies. Programs are available in four Indiana prisons: Indiana State Prison, Michigan City; Miami Correctional Facility, Bunker Hill; Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Carlisle; and Pendleton Correctional Facility, Pendleton.
“We’re the only college in all of Indiana’s maximum security prisons,” said Dr. John Teevan, director of Grace’s prison extension program.
Ball State, Purdue University North Central, Indiana State, Ivy Tech, and Oakland City University are other schools in Indiana with prison programs, and Grace and Oakland City are the only two offering a Christian education.
Classes in the prison are set up like a normal college classroom and meet for 2