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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

Restorative Justice Conference organized by inmates returns to West Michigan

Calvin Prison Initiative

The Second Annual West Michigan Restorative Justice Conference returns again this year to the area, and what you may not know is that this conference is entirely organized by inmates of the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. The individuals are students of the Calvin Prison Initiative Program, an undergraduate program inside the facility.

“Each year our program admits 20 individuals, and they have to apply to get in, and there is a set of interviews and different admission criteria. We can only admit 20 per year.” 

That is Matt Walthouse, physics professor at Calvin College, and taught this past semester a class on questions in religion and science for the program. He says the classes feel very different than any other college class he has ever taught at Calvin.

“It’s a very intense, learning interested group.” 

Although, none of the students will be able to attend the conference. Their voices will not only be present via recorded videos but their influence on the conference’s framework will be made obvious at the event, explains Laurel Luke, staffer for the coalition of justice voters, a sponsoring organization. 

“They are the ones who come up with the speaker list. They are the ones who provided a list of different organizations that we could contact throughout the planning process to see if they would like to help sponsor.”   

State Representative David LaGrand will be one of the featured speakers. The conference is free and will be held this Saturday at Calvin College. Last year the first cohort of 15 men earned their associate’s degree and a graduation was held inside the prison. The program prioritizes individuals who are serving life sentences. 

Michelle Jokisch Polo, WGVU News.