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Union grad receives degree while volunteering at prison

Art Rorheim (center), co-founder of Awana, and Jack Eggar, president and CEO of the ministry, surprise Lindsey Blackwood, media communications major, with her degree May 17 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. (Photo by Brittney Julian)
Art Rorheim (center), co-founder of Awana, and Jack Eggar, president and CEO of the ministry, surprise Lindsey Blackwood, media communications major, with her degree May 17 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. (Photo by Brittney Julian)

ANGOLA, La.May 24, 2013 – Instead of walking across a stage to receive her degree from Union University President David S. Dockery, Lindsey Blackwood walked the perimeter of “Tudy Chapel” in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La.

Blackwood received her degree May 17 from the hands of Art Rorheim, co-founder of Awana, and Jack Eggar, the ministry’s president and CEO.

Blackwood, a media communications major at Union, chose to skip her commencement ceremony so she could travel with a media team of Union students to cover the annual Returning Hearts Celebration held by Awana Lifeline at the prison. The event offers inmate fathers a chance to spend an afternoon with their children.

Blackwood attended the event in 2012 and left saying she would return the next year.

“I realized that I’m more passionate about finding things that matter, important stories,” she said. “From the time I came here last year I never quit talking about Angola and never stopped thinking about these men and praying for them. So it was just more important for me to be here than to walk.”

Jim Veneman, director of visual communication at Union, secretly arranged for Blackwood’s degree to be given to her at a graduation ceremony for inmates who have completed Awana’s “Malachi Dads” training program, which teaches inmates about biblical fatherhood.

Inmates gave a standing ovation as Blackwood was escorted around the chapel, smiling through tears.

“That’s beautiful,” said Marlon King, an inmate at Angola. “I’ve never heard of anything like that — someone to just give up their most important day of graduation to come be with us.”

Warden Burl Cain wanted Blackwood to have the opportunity to walk, saying she had sacrificed for others.

“It speaks of her character,” Cain said. “She was used as a blessing and, as my dad would say, she made the Holy Spirit smile.”

By Katherine Burgess (’15)


Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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