As of April of 2012 I will have been a Chaplain in Chester County Prison for 21 years. By the Grace of God and the contributions of many, Onesimus Ministries has been able to support me in this endeavor. Every day in the institution is filled with challenges and unexpected demands that I must be girded up for as soon as I enter the gates [Eph, 6:10-20]. I will try to share what a day in the life is like so you can possibly picture what the Lord is doing within the walls of our county prison.
My day begins in CCP around 0830 hrs Monday through Friday after the morning count of inmates is complete. Upon receiving the Chaplain set of keys I also am handed a stack of request forms the inmates use to communicate their needs to the Chaplain Department. Off to my office to prioritize my day. The requests may be as simple as the desire for a Bible or other Spiritual material [all of which are donated] or as complex as needing counseling for the most sensitive of issues in their lives. I call for the residents to come to my office, which enables them to be in a comfortable and confidential setting. Sometimes the counseling session will be to help answer questions they may have about the Bible or any other spiritual inquiry. There are also the many underlying sources of their behavior that need to be addressed.
The Bible is the manual for counseling as per 2 Timothy’ 3: 16 and my training enables me to help the inmates to apply God’s truth to help change their behavior. I do not believe in rehabilitation as the answer, since to be rehabilitated returns one ‘Just as they were” right before life went off course. I teach the principles of changing the mind and therefore changing the lifestyle. This is also referred to as “de-habituation and re-habituation,” stopping a bad habit and bad thinking and replacing it with new habits and right thinking using the Bible as the foundation of truth. Many inmates have come to be saved by Jesus after being introduced to the truth of God’s love and plan for their lives. Because of confidentiality and trust many men have been able to work through painful and sensitive issues of their past by opening up to me and realizing that Jesus can heal them from their infirmities. Change your mind and you change your lifestyle!
On Tuesday and Wednesday for three different securities, I teach classes for overcoming life-controlling problems based on the principles of 2 Cor. 5: 17-“we are new creatures in Christ, no longer who we were … ” I believe in healing, not merely maintenance. We utilize different material based around the ten steps of Christian living, the twelve steps of Celebrate Recovery, and foremost the Word of God. On the first Sunday night and third Saturday night of each month I take my turn in the pulpit to preach the Word for the worship service for the inmates.
The most difficult part of my position is to be the bearer of bad news to the inmates. I may receive a phone call from someone’s family that there had been a death in the family, or a relative is in the hospital. It is my responsibility to then call the inmate to my office to let them know what has happened. The response to such news ranges from stunned shock to absolute hysterics and I have to be ready to help them through their range of emotions and despair. Since an inmate is unable to be where he/she desires to be, finding themselves incarcerated at such a time hits them pretty hard. This all becomes part of the lessons of change and the accountability of life.
The prison is very large and there are many to minister to, not only the Christians, but those of all walks of faith. Some inmates are restricted to secure blocks, therefore I make personal visits to them to try and help with their needs. Often a kind word and letting them know that God loves them is the help they need to get them through another day. I do not often realize the fruit of my labor, but I know many seeds of faith are planted and are nurtured every day. The message I try to share, teach, and exhibit each day is one of love, for we are all called to love the sinner yet hate the sin [Matt. 25:37-40]. May I share the words of an inmate which gives voice to what does happen on any given day in CCP:
The real beauty of a true “Message of Love” is, as it should be, an undying gift to be shared with as many people as are willing and able to receive it. Yesterday evening, my cellmate received a citation for a major misconduct, which will prevent him from going home at the end of the week. Instead, he will now have to complete his “maximum” sentence and will not be allowed to go home until next year. It would be a grave understatement to say that my cellmate was emotionally crushed, morally beaten down, and all hope of seeing his family soon exterminated.
As a function of perfect timing, (or “His” time), today my cellmate was called to visit Chaplain Roomet. Upon his return to the cellblock, my cellmate’s demeanor, or outlook and mood, were notably and miraculously transformed by a “Message of Love.” What was even more of a miracle is that he was able to return and share with us the “good news” of this message of not only love, but of hope and faith. Instead of bitterness and malice at the harsh situation that he is facing, he was full of peace and benevolence and wanted for nothing more than to share the “Message.” I have personally likened the Chapel at Chester County Prison to the last station … the last stop on my own personal ‘Hell-Bound Train.” Had I . not been able to “get off’ that train at this station, I am quite unsure of where, both physically and spiritually,
I would be right now. Now I am convicted of a true relationship with Christ Jesus and can be certain of my salvation. All thanks to a “Message of Love “from other children of God, who saw fit to help rather than to judge me. Logically, in order for there to be a “Message of Love, ” there have to be “Messengers of Love. ”
I am eternally grateful to be in the position of Chaplain at CCP as a Messenger of Love answering the call on my life to “be involved” as I heard it from within my prison cell so long ago. Never would I have realized that my life would have changed so radically from sinner to sanctified if it were not for the chaplain encouraging me in 1986 that God loved me and had a purpose for my life. Now each week I am blessed to be able to fulfill in my small way the commission as we are charged by Christ; “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”