For the past 20 years, the inmate students of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola had to share space with those studying for their GED certificate or other subjects in the prison’s Education Center.

Now the seminary students have their own space just outside the front gate of the Main Camp, in the new 11,000-square-foot Joan Horner Center, named for a longtime prison seminary supporter.

The building houses two large classrooms, a computer lab with several computers, several offices and a spacious Dr. Charles “Chuck” Kelley Jr. Library of more than 10,000 books.

Built by inmate labor and paid for by an anonymous donor, it was dedicated Aug. 27, following a seminary graduation service in the nearby Tudy Chapel, where the 278th inmate graduated.

“We all love the building,” said John H. Robson, the seminary’s extension director for 21 years. “The building is spacious, comfortable, utilitarian, and will allow us to expand the program. We’re very grateful to Warden Burl Cain for his vision.”

Robson said more than 100 inmates in five classes are being taught this semester by four professors.

“This has been the most spectacular day we could ever have,” Cain said at the dedication service, according to Baptist Press. “We have a new seminary building; we doubled our capacity; and, it means less victims of violent crime.”

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said the seminary came to Angola 20 years ago at Cain’s request to help calm what was then “America’s bloodiest prison.”

“We didn’t want to simply go inside Angola and minister to the prisoners — many groups do that and that’s wonderful. But we felt like our skill set and our abilities were such that we could equip the inmates to minister to each other, and that there would be a level of credibility in what they did because all of the inmates they touch would know they are living the same life,” Kelley said. “Having that example to help them, to teach the Bible, to walk with them through their life crises, to counsel them, to encourage them, we thought would make a great difference, and it surely has.”

At the dedication, Kelley shared his dreams for the center’s future: $100,000 to begin the master’s level certification program in worship ministry; a $1 million endowment to cover tuition cost for all enrolled in the Louisiana prison programs; and a $5 million endowment to establish the Center for Moral Rehabilitation, a place to study and discuss how to reduce the prison population and attain genuine rehabilitation, according to a Baptist Press report.