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LIFE Program

Providing access to higher education in prisons and enhancing the academic experience for all.

At Lipscomb, we seek to provide higher education to anyone who desires it and deepen the spiritual and academic growth of all students. The Lipscomb Initiative for Education (LIFE) is one of the unique ways we accomplish this mission, bringing faith-based education to two Tennessee prisons.

Only 35% of state prisons offer college education, and just 6% of the prison populace take courses. LIFE is one of a growing number of higher education in prison programs in the U.S. We are proud to say this program has celebrated 30 degree completions since 2007 and expects 14 LIFE students to graduate in 2022.

Traditional, campus-based students can participate in the LIFE program by enrolling in relocated classes at the prison with LIFE students. This allows both groups the chance to develop the self-confidence, character, knowledge and compassion to pursue their education while serving with others.

"LIFE gives me a future. LIFE gives me a community. LIFE gives me hope."

—Lipscomb LIFE student and resident of the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center

TPW Graduation 2017

LIFE Testimonials

“I have been a LIFE student for about a year and a half. This has been one of the most life changing, defining moments for me. Why? Because I am a part of a community that promotes and believes in Jesus Christ, I am working toward a degree that will one day not only change my life but make a difference in other lives as well.”
- LIFE Student

“My class at the Tennessee Prison for Women led to some of the most honest discussions I’ve ever experienced in an academic setting. Although we sat at desks and a teacher led the conversation, the openness felt like some level group therapy at times. Not many can take an ethics class with those whose stories vary so drastically from most 18-21-year-old college students, and I’m so grateful for those rich perspectives offered with the understanding that judgment was no concern. I still write letters back and forth with one of my classmates. She, and many others, were so gracious on our journey of learning together, giving the gift of their story and creating a safe space to simply listen to each other."
- Campus-Based Student

"Participating in the LIFE Program at TPW has been a highlight of my teaching career. The women are dream-students: dedicated, eager, inquisitive. But they are more than that...they are friends. Many a Wednesday evening I've entered checkpoint thinking I'd try to be good for them, and left two hours later with my own heart overflowing." 
- Leanne Smith, Faculty

“When I first started the LIFE program, I did not know what to expect. I was scared and hoped that I would do good and learn things that I had not encountered before as far as stretching my mind. When I signed up I was so happy because I felt like if I was on the streets I would have not accomplished all that I have now. The LIFE program has helped me to grow day by day, and be thankful to the teachers who show us compassion and love. If it was not for the program, I do not know who I would be today…I hope that we have made Dr. Goode and the rest of our teachers proud.”
- LIFE Student

“Choosing to do a presentation at the Tennessee Prison for Women for my Business Communication classes was one of the best decisions I made during my time in college. Not only did I get to share about my experiences with meditation and mindful awareness, I learned so much about what it is really like in prison. After class one woman asked if we could be pin-pals. This was the start of a great friendship. I had taken another LIFE program at Room At The Inn and once I heard I could sign up for one at the TPW, I rearranged my schedule to make it work. The class was every bit as challenging as my other classes, but it was much more interactive. I got to hear great stories and look at topics through completely new lenses. I am so thankful for the wealth of knowledge and the relationships that the LIFE program continues to create.”
- Campus-Based Student

“Teaching for Lipscomb in Nashville prisons has served as a Damascus Road experience for me.  When I taught my first class in the spring of 2007, I was a law-and-order prosecutor.  The relationships I forged with people who are imprisoned caused me to re-think my faith and my career.  I determined that I could not hear about forgiveness, redemption, and restoration on Sunday morning and serve as an agent of retribution Monday through Friday, so I quit my job as a prosecutor and have become an advocate for criminal justice reform.  My experiences in the LIFE Program have left me convinced that, as Jesus taught in Matthew 25, my salvation is bound up with that of people behind bars.”
- Preston Shipp, Faculty

"The LIFE Program for me has been:
- Liberating
- Given me a second chance in life
- Taught me how intelligent I am
- Given me something to take home
- Given me a reason to wake up
- Given me a reason to stay out of trouble
- Given me something to be proud of in my heart

LIFE gives me a future.
LIFE gives me a community.
LIFE gives me hope.
LIFE gives."
- LIFE Student

"The moment I found out that I would be going to the prison I started thinking about all the ways in which I wanted to lead the women and help them through things. How wrong I was. I was not leading anyone, they would lead me and they would do it because I just wanted to be present for them and that was enough of a service. It was not about learning everyone’s stories of why they were in this wretched place, but rather meeting them right where they were at. I did this by just listening to them. It is amazing to watch the relief spread across their faces as they watch you communicate with them as a normal human being. By the simple act of listening, I made friends. Those friends are friends that I still write to even though I cannot participate in their lives the same way I once could. TPFW gives students a chance to experience women who have been in the darkest spaces of our earth, but that experience stirs up passions that one would never have thought they would have.” 
- Campus-Based Student

"Education behind bars has a reach farther than one would expect. Not only is this opportunity providing further education for the ladies inside, which can help with employment and opportunities for re-entry after release from prison, ladies in this program provide an example for their children and grandchildren. This example helps change the pattern of high rates on incarceration for children who have parents in prison. Educating ladies through the LIFE Program shows our students and their families that more is available to them in life and community through education."
- Christin Shatzer, Faculty

Barbi Brown

A Second Chance at LIFE: Barbi Brown

After spending half of her life behind bars, Lipscomb alumna Barbi Brown said the education she received through Lipscomb’s LIFE program made her transition from living inside prison to living outside much easier...

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Ashlee Sellars

A Second Chance at LIFE: Ashlee Sellars

At the age of 17, Ashlee Sellars, from Knoxville, Tennessee, found herself in a courtroom being tried as an adult facing a life plus 25-year prison sentence for decisions she made as a minor...

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Donna Pearson

A Second Chance at LIFE: Donna Pearson

In 2009 the influence of a relationship led Donna Pearson to use cocaine and tore her away from her career in the dental industry, a field she has worked in for more than 26 years...

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Adrianne Thompson

Graduation files: Thompson seeks to serve others with grad degree, LIFE experience

When Adrianne Thompson walked across the Allen Arena stage to receive her diploma on Dec. 18, it symbolized much more than the culmination of several years of hard work and study to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (MACM)...

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Students Awarded Unique Ceremony

Students awarded degrees in unique ceremony behind prison walls

The day began like most graduation days with a provost’s breakfast where faculty served soon-to-be Lipscomb graduates. Students talked excitedly with their professors. Photos were taken...

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LIFE offers first of its kind

LIFE offers first-of-its-kind master's degree

Master of Arts in Christian Ministry will teach TPW residents to minister effectively behind prison walls.

Lipscomb University’s LIFE program (the Lipscomb Initiative for Education), a unique academic experience where traditional students enroll in liberal arts courses...

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Old-fashioned communication

Old-fashioned communication provides hope for prison residents during pandemic

With most of the world on lockdown, Lipscomb’s most isolated students are receiving encouragement through an old-fashioned form of long-distance communication: handwritten letters....

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Tree of Life

Tree Of Life, LIFE program collaborate to make impact on community

Lipscomb University’s bookstore partner, the Tree of Life, and the Lipscomb Initiative For Education, known as the LIFE program, are teaming up to help provide tools for a special group of students to accomplish their educational goals...

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Of state prisons offer college courses


Of residents are able to take college courses


Employment increase to residents who took courses

LIFE Program History

LIFE began in 2007, with 15 LIFE students and 15 traditional, undergraduate students at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center. In 2018, Lipscomb started the first seminary at a women's prison in the country. 

As a result of grants from the state of Tennessee, enrollment expanded in 2020 and programming was added at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute. Fifty students are currently enrolled in Lipscomb through the LIFE program. Additionally, 12 LIFE students are enrolled in a new college prep class.

In December 2022, Lipscomb will hold its fifth graduation ceremony at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center and honor the first LIFE cohort to complete a Master's degree. Students released before finishing a degree are eligible to receive the new Richard C. Goode LIFE scholarship. Named for the LIFE program's founder, this fund supports students transitioning from classes in the LIFE program to classes online or on campus, full or part-time.



For more information on the program or how to get involved, please contact Robbie Spivey.

robbie.spivey [at] (More Information)class="button"