My relationship with Fuller began while I was serving a 30-year prison sentence at the California Institution for Women as the tragic result of a domestic violence incident. While a prisoner, I first earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology but, more importantly, I learned how to lean on Jesus—and for 28 years was the lay pastor for the prison psychiatric unit.
In 2003, as I was approaching the 50-year milestone of my life, a dear friend and mentor found Fuller’s Certificate of Christian Studies program for me: six master’s-level classes I could do through distance learning. Computers were not available in prison. I did my coursework by electric typewriter, cassette recordings, and snail mail. On completing that program, I had to submit an integrative essay explaining how Fuller impacted my vocation. The next thing I knew, Fuller had invited me into the MA in Theology program with the necessary classes offered by distance learning. The financial burden seemed impossible, but my friend assured me that God never calls us to do something he can’t afford to pay for. When my friend could no longer help me financially, Fuller was there with scholarships. I was released from prison in 2010 with five classes left, and I graduated in 2012.
Yet life still doesn’t go smoothly. I was not accepted into Fuller’s PhD program the first time I applied—but was placed in the ThM program, where I refined my academic skills while waiting to reapply. In 2014, I was accepted into the PhD program. Reaching back to my sisters in prison, I focused my research on the communication gaps between women prisoners and the Christian volunteers who minister to them.
I turned 65 on the day I submitted my dissertation. Remarkably, Fuller believes that a 65-year-old convict is redeemable and has invested in my future. So at an age when many are contemplating retirement, I find myself being called an emerging scholar whose future augurs well for her chosen ministry of teaching, writing, and advocating for women. I think this proves that God still works miracles.
+ Linda Barkman is a PhD in Intercultural Studies and MA in Theology alum