Discovering Virtues through Poetry in Prisons
Using classic poetry to teach the seven virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, Discovering Virtues through Poetry encourages incarcerated men to strive for moral excellence, goodness, and righteousness. Offered as a public course, the program is based on the truths professed in the Declaration of Independence. Discovering Virtues through Poetry acknowledges God as our Creator and as the Source of all that is good. Prisoners learn to discern what is good according to God’s will.
For the past seven years, the program has had Christians, Muslims, wiccans, and others discerning God’s truth together. Despite their many differences, God’s truth becomes self-evident to these men when they collectively submit to God’s will. A sense of solidarity as fellow Americans often develops among the inmates.
The root of virtue comes from the Latin word for “man,” which is “vir.” Inmates learn that true manliness is to be virtuous. Men are challenged to bring virtue into an unvirtuous world, to be true to their state in life, to become strong men, strong fathers, and strong husbands who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of their families and their communities.
The Power of Poetry
The power of poetry can connect both the mind and heart to receive God’s truth. Inmates begin the discernment process by analyzing elements of poetry according to the virtue studied. The universal themes of poetry help inmates relate the poems to their own experiences. A Dickenson poem, “Hope” is a thing with feathers” opened the heart and mind of a satanist to turn back to God and renounce the enemy. Inmates were asked if they had the fortitude to persevere in faith when faced with great pain. This inmate was angry with God for taking his parents when he was young. On the last day of the program, he gave his life to Christ. Many prisoners have had similar experiences.
Evangelizing without Proselytizing
“We hold these truths to be self-evident...” is only possible when we acknowledge God as our Creator. Objective truth is not self-evident when we do not acknowledge God. In the spirit of American tradition, Discovering Virtues through Poetry is taught as a public course. God is acknowledged as our Creator and as the Source of all that is good. The program upholds God’s Natural Law without proselytizing religious doctrine. Because God’s truth is written in our hearts, inmates often end up expressing the universal truths of God’s Natural Law on their own initiative.
Teaching Discovering Virtues through Poetry in the prison as a public course is a model for how God can be brought back into America’s public education system.
“Without God there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism. Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus with God's help, it will continue to be.”
-Dwight D Eisenhower