In 2009, thinking she was destined to die in prison, Lolita Barthel decided to take her own life. But on the day she was planning to commit suicide, she was unexpectedly transferred to another prison.
For Barthel, that seemingly random event felt like divine intervention. “I really truly asked God, ‘If You can do something with my life, even here, just do it,’” she said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “And honestly, things just started changing.”
She enrolled with Crossroad Bible Institute in 2009 and continued until 2012. Her Instructors commented on her depth of knowledge and her desire to know Jesus more and more.
“Lolita has the most loving spirit for our Savior. I was blessed to tears grading her lesson,” one Instructor wrote.
Another Instructor commented that Barthel was “looking to serve God where she is.”
Barthel began teaching a Bible class in prison, became an ordained minister and is now taking correspondence classes through Jacksonville Theological Seminary, according to the Times. She told the Times she has undergone a “radical change” since the crime she committed as a teenager.
Barthel is serving a life sentence in a Florida prison for a murder and armed robbery she committed at age 17. Now 38, she has a chance to one day be released.
She will be resentenced next year, after a landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, which says teens can’t be automatically sentenced to prison for life, was applied retroactively in Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Her new sentencing hearing is set for February.
Another CBI student, who was serving a life sentence for a crime committed as a teenager, has been granted a chance at parole. Dakotah Eliason, who was 14 when he shot and killed his grandfather, was originally sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In June, he was resentenced due to the Supreme Court ruling. Eliason was given a 35- to 60-year sentence.
Eliason enrolled with CBI in 2013 and continues to get strong scores on his lessons. According to media reports, Eliason has also earned his GED and is helping other people in prison get theirs.