Sitting on the chairs of a semi-circle is a copy of Christian author Chip Ingram’s book, “True Spirituality.” Men are about to start taking their seats to begin discussing this book that considers what it means to be a Christian. It’s a scene that could take place in any church or bible study around the country. This one, however, is taking place inside the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility, just a few miles from downtown Nashville’s honky-tonks and glittering lights.
The prison is part of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a unique public-private partnership. Since its founding more than 30 years ago, CCA has welcomed new and innovative ideas to reduce recidivism. The Nashville detention facility houses around 1,200 prisoners who have committed crimes from drug peddling to murder.
About a decade ago, CCA took a chance on Carl Carlson, a Vietnam War veteran and a former prisoner himself, and his desire to form a prison ministry in the Metro-Davidson jail.
Many county jails and state prisons are skittish about partnering with faith-based organizations, for fear of running up against the First Amendment and the often-misunderstood separation of church and state. But CCA had no qualms about welcoming Carlson’s group into the county facility.