The conversion of "the bloodiest prison in America" into a cradle of hope for hundreds will be witnessed by many throughout the nation when it airs this weekend on the ION Television Network.
"The Miracle of Hope," a documentary that chronicles the spiritual transformation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, will air Sunday, Dec. 7, at 11 p.m. ET on a TV network viewable in approximately 94 million homes. The documentary will give viewers an in-depth look into the positive, life-changing personal stories of numerous inmates and prison staff who are now part of a spiritual movement gripping the prison.
"I sought to create a production that would present the beautiful coupling of the hope and music of the Gospel inside a place that most would view as hopeless," says Carol Cymbal, whose dream of bringing the message that God's love can overpower despair blossomed into "The Miracle of Hope."
"We knew that Angola's story and its prisoners' genuine love for God would be the ideal example to show people around the world the transforming and renewing power of faith," she added. "The redemptive stories of so many inmates at Angola beautifully illustrate the true power of faith in God."
Once deemed "the bloodiest prison in America" due to its deep and dark history of violence, Angola experienced a dramatic turnaround under the compassionate leadership of Warden Burl Cain, who arrived at the penitentiary in the mid-1990s and has since launched numerous faith-based initiatives at the prison.
"After witnessing my first execution of a prisoner at Angola, I was extremely convicted and felt accountable not only for the lives, but also the afterlives of my inmates," said Cain, who now will not let a single prisoner be executed without hearing the redemptive story of the Bible. "Yes they are prisoners, but they are still humans and deserve and need more than most of us to have hope."
Since Cain started programs such as the "Experiencing God" study group, over 1,200 of the 5,000-plus inmates at Angola have expressed faith in God. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's extension curriculum at the prison, meanwhile, has seen over 140 inmates graduate from its program, some of whom have gone on to become missionaries, traveling to other prisons to share their testimonies.
"He took the bloodiest prison in America and he's made it really into a model prison," noted evangelist Franklin Graham, who hosted an evangelistic festival at Angola in 2006. "And really, you can see the result of what Jesus Christ can do in the lives of men when Christ is brought into an institution like this and where Jesus Christ is lifted up, where church participation is encouraged, the gospel is really preached. Men's lives are really changed here. No question. They're changed."
Whether or not people agree with the teachings of the Christian faith, many say it is irrefutable that Cain's practices have transformed the prison. They point to the statistical decrease in hostility and bloodshed and an notable increase in the morality and integrity of prisoners. Convicted murderers, rapists and robbers alike are recognizing that their sentencing to Angola is what "saved" them.
"God doesn't say 'Well, because you came to prison, you can't change,'" said Ron Ricks, who was sentenced to life for 2nd degree murder. "God is sayin' at those times of trouble, you can call out to Him. And that's what I did."
"And God saved me," he added. "God has changed my life. God loves me, just like He loves anyone else."
Mixed throughout the documentary, alternating with inmates testimonies, is a performance at Angola by The Brooklyn Tabernacle's 285-voice, Grammy-winning choir.
"The Miracle of Hope" DVD, which was released April 15, features the full concert performance with songs such as "This Is How It Feels To Be Free," "I'm Amazed," "Hallelujah Anyhow," "Saved," "He's God," "My Life Is In Your Hands," "Amazing Grace" and "Total Praise."
The DVD is available in Christian retail stores throughout the U.S. through Provident-Integrity Distribution and is being distributed to mainstream retail outlets through Sony-BMG. The project is also being distributed worldwide by Integrity International and is available online at www.integritydirect.com.