This year, many United Methodist seminary students will gather for the prison immersion program, which is hosted at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP). There, students spend an entire week inside prison, talking face-to-face with inmates.
"I don't know of a similar program anywhere," commented Rev. Stan Basler, who recently helped students through an immersion course at OSP. "It wouldn't be possible without the Department of Corrections (DOC) cooperation."
According to an Oklahoma news source, prior to visiting OSP, students must attend a one-day trip to the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, followed by another at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.
"It's part of the educational philosophy of the seminary that every student must have an immersion course," Rev. Basler added. "They must spend one week being immersed in a specific portion of the ministry.
Rev. Basler is currently the director of the Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries (CJMM), which specializes in ministering to inmates and juvenile-offenders in Oklahoma. CJAMM is associated with the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Of the students who go through the prison immersion, some move on to work closely with CJMM - either through a prison ministry program or through one of four non-denominational Redemption Churches in the state. The Redemption Church, Rev. Basler said, is made up primarily of "prisoners, ex-prisoners, their families and others."
Other immersion programs offered include mission trips to places ranging from underdeveloped areas to urban slums. Each of the various programs, sources says, are intended to help students locate where they can best meet the needs of society.
"This is a program to help bring God's word to those who need it, and to prepare those who bring it," he said. "We appreciate the DOC letting us do that."
Each year, many United Methodist seminaries encourage their students to attend immersion programs to acquire skills in minstering to those who are truly in need. Hence, attendants often enjoy a diverse choice of programs.
Rev. Basler anticipates the annual prison program to occur twice a year.