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Prison program aims to transform inmates into church leaders

 

Damian Dovarganes / AP

Inmate Robert Ross, 32, far left, a leader in the seminary training program sings one of his musical compositions during a college-level seminary course held at the California Rehabilitative Center in Norco, Calif. The program aims to transform inmates into church leaders, pastors, teachers and evangelists.

The Associated Press reports from Norco, Calif. — Robert Ross' mother died while he was in prison for robbing a bank and he hasn't seen his 12-year-old son since the boy was in diapers.

Damian Dovarganes / AP

William Johnson, 38, foreground, attends a college-level seminary course at the California Rehabilitative Center. The nonprofit group Prison Fellowship, which trains volunteers and runs the rigorous, three-year course behind prison walls, graduated its first class of 10 inmates last year and expects to graduate 14 more in 2013.

For all that he has lost, however, Ross says he found something far greater behind bars thanks to a college-level seminary course that trains inmates to establish churches and evangelize in poor communities upon their release.

"When I tell people that I'm grateful for the 15 years 4 months that I was sentenced to, people look at me like I'm crazy or maybe on some kind of medication, and they ask 'Why?' and I tell 'em, 'Well, it took that for me to find out who Jesus is and really fall in love with him and let him do his work in me,'" he said. "Had I not been arrested, I'm sure I would be dead." Read the full story.

Editor's note: Photos taken on August 9, 2012 and made available to NBC News on September 12, 2012.

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