Eighty-five Bible-toting inmates at a Texas prison are taking part in the nation's first faith-based prison pre-release program run 24 hours a day by an independent Christian organization.

The unusual experiment in church-state cooperation is the first time a state prison system has allowed a private Christian organization—Prison Fellowship International of Reston, Virginia—to take over an entire prison wing.

The goal of the round-the-clock volunteer program is to transform inmates spiritually and keep them from returning to prison.

"We want to change the inner man through the love of Jesus Christ," says pastor Don Bentley, a Prison Fellowship employee. "Until you do that, all you have is a polished-up convict."

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative—an intense blend of studying the Bible, teaching Christian values, and mentoring by church volunteers—is the first program of its kind in the United States. Houston-area church volunteers will work with inmates before and after they leave the minimum security Jester II Prison Unit between Sugar Land and Richmond southwest of Houston.

RIGOROUS SCHEDULE: Rising before dawn, the men make up their bunks inside their gray seven-foot-square cubicles. Each has a reading light. Some inmates display pictures of Jesus, crosses, or other religious symbols.

Encouraging signs are posted in different locations. "If It Is to Be, It's Up to Me," one message proclaims. Another states: "The Only Antidote to Pride Is the Grace of God."

At 5:30 a.m., inmates attend a mandatory worship service. Praying, hymnsinging, studying the Bible, learning life skills, and working at prison jobs follow. The day ends at 9 p.m.

Prison Fellowship, founded by Charles Colson, has allocated $1.2 million ...

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