Wray was scheduled to come to Duke in September 2007 for a second consulting visit, but he died of a brain hemorrhage in August. “I felt a special responsibility to organize and offer the course, partly as a means of continuing Harmon’s legacy,” says Carder.
He drafted a syllabus and formally proposed the course, which was approved by the curriculum committee and first offered during the spring 2009 semester.
A few months before the course started, Carder attended worship in Goodson Chapel, having no idea that he would hear colleague Douglas Campbell give a sermon challenging Christians to visit prisons and push for prison reform. Campbell, associate professor of New Testament, drew on the experience that he and his wife, Rachel, had while visiting a young family friend in prison.
Carder approached Campbell and asked him to help with the class. He agreed immediately, and they decided he would give two lectures. But Campbell would attend nearly every session, fully participating in discussions.
“A sheer gift,” Carder says. “It was not part of his teaching load, but he did it out of his own passion and commitment.”
Another crucial collaborator would be Cari Willis D’09, who became Carder’s teaching assistant. She had done her field training at the prison as a pastoral care provider on the hospice ward, and later reflected on the searing experience in an independent study with Carder. She is currently at work on a book-length memoir about that ministry that she hopes to publish.
Willis, who brought a corporate management background and extensive contacts at the prison, oversaw the complicated logistics of having the class meet there, and also recruited outside speakers.
“It just seemed like a match for me to help Bishop Carder,” she says. “He knows this is where my heart is.”
In early lectures and readings, Carder’s course built a foundation, surveying the early history of corrections in the United States, the church’s role in shaping it, and how in recent decades mandatory sentencing has swelled prison populations.
As a student, Nathan Kilbourne D’09 found himself coming to terms with the United States as the world leader in incarceration. The United States has more than 2.3 million inmates in federal and state prisons and in local jails. These prisoners account for 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its reported inmates.
African Americans and other ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented, and the number of women in prison has spiked, increasing the percentage of nonviolent offenders behind bars. All told, the United States spends about $68 billion a year on corrections.