March 21, 2019 07:27 PM
5 EYEWITNESS News got a rare look inside Minnesota's only women's prison for a special graduation ceremony Thursday.
Six women at Minnesota Correctional Facility Shakopee completed the Prison Fellowship Academy, an intensive 12-month program. Prison Fellowship, a Christian nonprofit, said the goal is to take incarcerated men and women through a holistic life transformation process where they are mentored to become restored individuals both inside and outside of prison.
"One of the biggest things I've taken away from this program is the power of your story," said 23-year-old Brittany Reichard, who started serving a sentence at Shakopee in September 2017. "I really kind of feel like God brought me to this point to grow and to discover myself and to help other people."
Reichard and five other women who graduated from the Academy shared their personal stories of pain and redemption with a room full of other prisoners, mentors, volunteers and family members Thursday. They spoke openly about the crimes they committed and the healing they recently found in prison.
"I have restoration and freedom to be me again," said Amy Englebretson, who is serving time for unintentional manslaughter. "I had to lay everything at God's feet for my bitterness and pain to heal."
The Prison Fellowship Academy is an optional program but the Minnesota Department of Corrections said it has a great success rate, with more than 99 percent of its graduates not reoffending once they are released.
"Hopefully they succeed," said Warden Tracy Beltz. "They get out and they'll stay out, which is our ultimate goal."
Reichard, who is set to be released in May, wants to become an addiction counselor someday, hoping to use her own story to change others.
"There's a lot of change that needs to be done in the world and I'm ready to contribute to that," Reichard said, through tears. "I've grown and I feel strong inside."
"I'm excited to see where this takes her," Reichard's mother, Sheila Johnson, said after the ceremony. "I'm so proud of you."
The Prison Fellowship Academy started 12 years ago at the women's prison in Shakopee. At the time, it was the first women's academy in the country. Since then, it's inspired similar programs at other prisons nationwide.
Updated: March 21, 2019 07:27 PM
Created: March 21, 2019 06:08 PM
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