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Calvin Hires Prison Initiative Director

July 9, 2024
Lisa Spoelhof Schra
Lisa Spoelhof Schra

Lisa Spoelhof Schra, a 1993 graduate of Calvin University, has been named executive director of the Calvin Prison Initiative (CPI). The partnership between Calvin Theological Seminary, Calvin University, and the Michigan Department of Corrections provides incarcerated men with an opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree behind bars.

“This is important work,” said Schra. “The gospel asks us to reach out in new spaces and find people on the margins. I’m excited to join the CPI team who is doing that well.”

Schra has worked in nonprofits her entire career, including most recently as director of development for Living Stones Academy and for the past year in Calvin’s advancement division. In her new role she will be tasked with overseeing a growing CPI team, leading both strategic planning and operations.

“Lisa has demonstrated the ability to build and support well-functioning teams,” said Kevin den Dulk, associate provost at Calvin University. “With the growth of the CPI program and the emerging expansion of prison education across the state, having her skill set in leading our growing team sets us up well to continue to lead the state of Michigan forward in seeking renewal behind bars.”

Ripple Effects of Renewal

Since receiving accreditation for the program in Handlon Correctional Facility in 2015, CPI has now seen 71 students graduate with a bachelor’s degree. The formative education they received not only changed their lives but is also changing prison culture. The graduates are now mentors, tutors, pastoral assistants, and leaders, now working to create a flourishing environment inside prisons.

And while the culture change is happening at Handlon, it’s also spreading across the state. Small groups of graduates from CPI have now been sent to four additional prisons in Michigan to help work toward renewal in those facilities. Calvin has also started a consortium of 13 colleges that are working together toward a shared goal.

“The goal is to have a college program in every prison in Michigan,” said Todd Cioffi, senior advisor for CPI. “If a child has one incarcerated parent, statistics show that they have a much higher likelihood of being incarcerated too. We know it’s generational. But so too is education.”

“My two daughters want to go to college now because they’ve seen me graduate; they’re calling on me to help them,” said Raymond Potts, a 2020 graduate of the CPI program. “They saw the livestream of my graduation and said, ‘Dad, I can’t tell you how proud I am.’”

The Calvin program hasn’t limited itself to offering education behind bars. Calvin is also committed to removing barriers for returning citizens as they reenter society, everything from developing a returning citizen app that helps formerly incarcerated individuals access the services they’ll need post-incarceration to offering a micro credential for employers who are considering hiring returning citizens.