Ruth Graham has written a lot about forgiveness.
That was a word that was preached often by her father, the late evangelist Billy Graham, but the renowned pastor’s daughter said she did not truly fully understand the concept of forgiveness until she went inside Angola prison in Louisiana several years ago.
It was there that she first began working with Burl Cain, who was then head of the famed prison and is now the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
“He asked if our team would come to Angola, and I said yes,” Ruth Graham told E-T Publisher Bryan Davis in a Zoom interview this week about her recent partnership with MDOC. “The last day there, he said, ‘Ruth, would you mind going to death row?’ Going to prison was one thing, going to death row as a totally different matter.’”
She did say yes, which eventually led her to the cell of an inmate who was condemned to die.
The inmate asked her if he could sing for her.
“He took a step back, and he began to sing It Is Well With My Soul, and I knew it was,” she said.
The prisoner then gave her a woven cross that he had made from threads from his bedsheets.
After some national fanfare during the visit, Ruth Graham said she received an email a few weeks later from a person who asked her if she really did go to the prison and to death row.
After a brief exchange, the person asked her if she had met a prisoner named Michael.
She got in contact with Cain and found out that she had indeed met the inmate, and it was the man who gave her the cross.
The person then asked her if Michael was a believer in Christ.
Ruth Graham later confirmed he that he was a Christian and that he was due to be executed that month.
When she reached back out to the person emailing her, she asked what her interest in the inmate was.
“She said, ‘He brutally murdered my granddaughter years ago, and I want to know that he’s going to be in heaven with me.’ And I realized at that point that I did not know what forgiveness is really all about. I had a very shallow understanding of forgiveness.”
Ruth Graham would eventually write a book on forgiveness, and she has now started a 14-week study on the subject for nearly 100 prison seminary students at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl.
“Every week, Ruth Graham will lead our prison seminary programs about how to forgive,” said Cain in a press release last week. “In her acclaimed book, Forgiving My Father, Forgiving Myself, she talks about having an absent parent and about what it means to forgive and move on.”
The 14-week Graham program is being underwritten by Calvin Sutphin, founder of Catalyst Ministries of West Virginia.
“At no time in world history has forgiveness been needed more,” said Sutphin. “Commissioner Cain is spot on about the key to true rehabilitation in prisons is Moral Rehabilitation. And it’s not just prisoners either. All of us need to soul-search with regularity.”
MDOC prisoner seminary students will train with Ms. Graham over the summer term and will then lead inmate-to-inmate satellite groups within prisons on the study of forgiveness.
“You want a reduced crime rate in the streets?” asked Cain. “Start with prisons. To quote the Apostle Paul, we really do war not against flesh and blood but against principalities. At the heart of drugs, alcohol and failed relationships is unforgiveness.”
Watch our complete interview with Ruth Graham to hear the incredible story of how she first became acquainted with Mississippi’s prison system through a former Angola inmate.