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Faith-oriented 4-year degree program planned for prison

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By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher

HILLSBORO — It is, according to retired Washington County Judge Tom Kohl, a clear example of how God can make something good out of even the most tragic of circumstances.

During the 18th annual Hillsboro Prayer Breakfast Oct. 25 at the Tuality Health Education Center, Kohl said he and a local pastor, having both experienced the extreme grief of their daughters being brutally murdered, are now jointly pursuing a vision to provide prison inmates a new, faith-oriented degree program.

Paid in Full Oregon, a ministry formed by Kohl and Pastor Rich Jones of Calvary Chapel Worship Center in Hillsboro, is joining with Corban University in Salem to launch the four-year program next fall at the Oregon State Correctional Institution near Salem.

“Our vision is to transform our pain (so as) to give meaning and hope to the lives of inmates in Oregon’s prison system,” Kohl told about 200 people at the breakfast.

According to Kohl, inmates who go through the program will become assistants to chaplains and will be sent to other state prisons to make a positive spiritual impact. They also will be available to mentor their own fellow inmates. “Most of all, they will offer hope,” said Kohl.

He said the program will be patterned after similar college programs set up for inmates in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and other states. He noted, for example, that the Angola penetentiary in Louisiana was infamous in the early 1990s as the most violent and bloodiest maximum-security prison in the nation, but since a Bible seminary program was implemented there, assaults in the prison have decreased by 75 percent.

Kohl outlined at the breakfast his own faith journey, which saw him commit his life to Christ in 2000 at a church men’s retreat.  “I realized what a mess my life was,” he said, recalling two failed marriages before he met his current wife, Julie, a Christian.

But his daughter Megan, who had a compassionate heart for those “bullied, needy and lost,” also found herself too often drawn into the drama of those she tried to help.  She developed a methamphetamine addiction.  In July 2006 she was killed at age 21 at a Gladstone apartment in a murder-for-hire.

Kohl went through waves of deep grief. “I did not think God could work any good from my daughter’s brutal murder,” he recalled.

Surprisingly, though, Kohl felt no hatred toward his daughter’s killer, who was sentenced to prison.  Kohl asked to meet with him and shared his faith, and the prisoner burst into tears and asked, “Judge, how can you be so kind?”

“Jesus had already started the process of enabling me to forgive her murderer, before I ever knew his name,” Kohl said.

The same kind of God-motivated forgiveness was extended by Jones in a Hillsboro courtroom five months ago at the sentencing for the man who in August 2014 killed his 29-year-old daughter, Nicole Laube in Portland. Jones has long known the Kohls; years ago he performed the wedding ceremony for Kohl and Julie.  But the common tragedy of the two daughters’ murders has closely bonded the retired judge and the pastor.

“I’ve been able to offer that same comfort to Pastor Rich that I received from God,” said Kohl.

For more information on the planned in-prison college program, go to PaidInFullOregon.org