"It's changed what I'm living for." Participants share their thoughts about a prison-based theological training program.

Robin LaBarbera, PhD, DSW

Hope for justice-involved men and women(Shutterstock)

I’m involved in a program evaluation for a prison-based theological training program called The Urban Ministry Institute, or TUMI.

I’ve collected over 40 hours of interview data from 141 justice-involved men and women and survey data from 157. One of the questions I asked during interviews and on the survey was, “tell us about the kind of person you were before you came to prison and how you are different now that you’re a TUMI participant.”

So far, just based on the analysis of the qualitative data from the surveys, I’ve determined that TUMI has truly, and I quote, “changed what I’m living for.”

Coding the data

Taking a deductive approach to data analysis, I’ve come up with a group of codes to analyze the data with respect to well-being based on the professional literature. Rather than measuring recidivism, which is a negative construct that considers only when participants ‘mess up’ or reoffend, I looked at well-being, which has been shown to be a significant predictor of reentry success and reduced likelihood of reoffending.

The four codes that have been important in my analysis are adapted from Pettus et al.’s (2021) 5 keys to well-being development. They are:

  1. Healthy thinking patterns: Internalizing the values that promote prosocial behavior, problem solving, communication style, decision-making
  2. Effective coping strategies: Behaviors that include self-management and avoiding engaging in behaviors that put others at risk.
  3. Positive interpersonal Relationships: contributing to the well-being of others; serving others.
  4. Self-esteem, optimism, sense of purpose: Changes in the way they think about themselves.


Initial analysis of qualitative data from the 157 surveys administered revealed the following:

  • 44% of responders believe that being in TUMI has changed their thinking, their values. One participant said, “I was 18 with no direction in life, I was in a gang and involved with drugs. I had nothing but anger and despair in my heart. God rescued me from all that and eventually led me to TUMI. Through this class I have learned to experience the Word of God in a new way, and it has made me aware of my responsibility as a Christian to actively engage with the world around me to direct it towards the will of God.”
  • 20% say it’s changed their behavior and it’s helped them avoid behaviors that put others at risk. One participant said, “I was all kinds of an addict, I stole, I used people, and I was selfish. I did most of that in prison. However since TUMI I've been serving God, and I love it so much, that I want to do it for the rest of my life. But I also want to tell people about this joy also with a deeper understanding.
  • 16% say it has caused their interpersonal relationships to be more positive – they contribute more to the well-being of others and serve others to a greater extent. One participant said, “I was on the streets and I was a drug addict. Now I can help others and help them to know the love of Jesus and allowing God/Jesus into my life. It transformed me and I see a light like no others. God has really blessed me through this class and it helps me to do Bible studies back on the dorm with the other ladies I live with.”
  • 20% say it’s increased their sense of competence, purpose, hope, and self-esteem. One participant said, “I was lost, not knowing who I was or what my purpose was; there was no direction or purpose. Since I never seemed to be good at anything and people were telling me I would never amount to anything, I quit trying and lived by the expectation. Now, I have learned how to truly be a servant. I live for the Kingdom not seeking my own acclaim. I can lead people effectively because I am not worried about self, which makes others comfortable around me.” Another said, “I was a liar and a thief and an adulteress. I didn't respect myself or my mom or my husband. I am now working my way back into a God-led life. My mother loves and is proud of me again. My ex-husband respects me again, and most importantly, I respect myself. TUMI has changed me completely.” And one other said, “Well, the person I was before I did not like myself at all, but the person I am now I love more than I did before I came to jail. So I'm kinda glad that I did come to jail.”

My initial conclusion, based on my analysis of qualitative data from 157 surveys of justice-impacted men and women, TUMI changes what people are living for.

Reference: Pettus, C., Veeh, C. A., Renn, T. R., & Kennedy, S. C. (2021). The well-being development model: A theoretical model to improve outcomes among criminal justice system-involved individuals. Social Service Review, 95(3), 413-468. https://doi.org/10.1086/715852.

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Dr. LaBarbera is a researcher, educator, and social work advocate who is passionate about sharing content that informs, inspires, and empowers individuals to achieve their greatest potential.

Seal Beach, CA

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