Mississippi College

Professor Otis Pickett Teaches Classes in Prison to College Pipeline

August 22, 2014

Mississippi College history professor Otis W. Pickett taught classes over the summer to men behind bars at the state penitentiary at Parchman.

At the 4,648-bed facility in Sunflower County, Pickett served as an instructor in the Prison to College Pipeline. His hard work is paying off. During commencement ceremonies on August 11, 17 prisoners graduated as Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, teachers and school leaders applauded their achievements.

Launched by a grant from the University of Mississippi, the prisoners took college prep classes in history, literature and creative writing. The courses helped them get an education to make the transition to college and to their future life outside prison walls.

“Being at Mississippi College with its Christian vision, this program fits with the mission of what we are called to do as Christian educators,” Pickett said.

In Matthew 25 in the Bible, “Jesus talks about the importance of visiting Him in prison,” Pickett noted. “Christ is basically saying that when we visit our forgotten brothers and sisters in prison, we are visiting Him.”

The inmates completing the ten-week program (the classes met for three hours every Monday) received certificates. They also were awarded a month’s reduction in their prison sentences.

Pickett wants Mississippi College professors from every academic discipline to join him next summer to teach at Parchman’s Unit 25. He’s seeking paperback books that the prisoners will use in their growing library at the 18,000-acre prison. “We also need prayer.”

At their August graduation, the prisoners read from their poetry and essays they crafted over the summer.

Pickett teamed with Ole Miss English professor Patrick Alexander and Caroline Banyard, director of Parchman’s pre-release program, to teach the courses. Pickett focused on the history of America’s Civil Rights Movement, while Alexander examined its literature.

Mississippi College School of Humanities & Social Sciences Dean Jonathan Randle commends Pickett as an “amazing addition” to the History Department since joining the faculty in 2013.

The Prison to College Pipeline Program is one of several initiatives that Pickett is involved with, through Mississippi College, his church or on his own, Randle said. It’s a reflection, he said, of the professor’s “heart for reconciliation, ministry and justice.”

A 2003 graduate of Clemson University, the Clinton resident earned a doctorate in U.S. history from Ole Miss where he taught before coming to MC. The South Carolina native helped launch the Oxford chapter of Mission Mississippi that seeks to create racial reconciliation among church-goers across the Magnolia State. Otis grew up in South Carolina, not far from significant Civil War sites like Fort Sumter and quickly developed a love for American history.

The Prison to College Pipeline is occurring amid rapid growth for America’s prison population. In 2013, there were 2.3 million men and women incarcerated in USA prisons. It represents 25 percent of the world’s prison population.            

Officials with a similar program operated by John Jay College in New York say more than 700,000 inmates are leaving U.S. prisons and making the transition to free society.

For more information, contact Otis Pickett at owpickett@mc.edu or 601-925-7834.



Photo: MC history professor, Dr. Otis Pickett

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