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Gibbs’ outreach program trains long-term inmates as ministers to help in N.C. prisons

By Bill King

Joe Gibbs was in the bleachers, waiting for one of his grandsons to finish football practice, when one of the coaches stopped by to tell him that he’d been so moved by one of Gibbs’ recent speaking engagements that he’d decided to start his own ministry, bringing Bible study to prisons.

The next time Gibbs spoke at a prison, the coach went with him.

That trip, and a few more like it, led to a big idea. The coach, Mark Howard, had heard about a Baptist seminary that offered a degree program to prisoners in Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Howard hoped Gibbs would help him start a similar program in North Carolina.

At first, Gibbs told him he was “up to his eyeballs” and couldn’t invest the years it would take to navigate the program that Howard envisioned, which would educate and train men to serve as field ministers working with fellow inmates in N.C. prisons.

Howard convinced him. Working through Gibbs’ Game Plan for Life nonprofit organization, they were able to fast-track the program, which launched in 2017. In December, at a ceremony in a gym at Nash Correctional Institution near Rocky Mount, N.C., Gibbs saw the program award degrees to its first graduating class of 24.

Most are serving life sentences. Prisoners must have at least 12 years remaining on their sentences to qualify for the program.

“That just shows you what one or two people can do when they’re moved to do it,” Gibbs said. “It came together so fast, it was like a miracle thing.”

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